Monday, January 7, 2013

Sandy Hook

How will they heal? Come to terms with a tragedy of which most of us can barely conceive? Of a magnitude we can only associate with wartime. Or mass genocide. The seemingly relentless and too oft repeated struggle has begun again; to make sense of a senseless act, this time perpetrated against twenty-six victims, twenty of whom were under the age of seven, by an individual driven by motives which will be broadly speculated upon -- but never known. Sandy Hook School, December 14, 2012. A scant 10 days before the annual festival of renewal, celebration of birth, and traditionally the time of the child and a child's joys.

It is impossible not to be touched by this catastrophe, to take on as one's own tragedy this dreadful and mindless event. As adults we identify hugely with the parents, the emergency workers, the counselors, the professionals, the community. We empathize with their grief, their sadness, their anger, their confusion. We place this event in a context, as best we can, along side a growing list of similar slaughters of innocents -- and attempt to decide 'where to now?' What points of adult reference does Sandy Hook touch in us? What needs: blame, forgiveness, analysis, judgment, reform? What identities: victim, vigilante, parent?

Shortly before this tragedy, before our attention was so abruptly drawn to a small town in Connecticut, I had occasion to be speaking with a man about coming to terms with his own constellation of childhood hardships, 'smaller' on scale to be sure, but tragic nonetheless: a young brother's suicide, an uncle's shunning and resulting premature death, a mother's perhaps well-intentioned but projected and scarring mis-parenting and control. We had visited this ground many times before -- but this time there was a difference. As is so often explored in personal work, the concept of writing a letter to an individual, figural to one's emotional development, had occurred to this man; in this case, a communication with his now deceased mother. Freed from the need to actually sending anything, his writing was honest, candid, and direct, citing the struggles and hurts he'd experienced; the presumed psychological impact his childhood was to have on his adult life. What made this exercise unique, in my experience, however, was that he had, in fact, composed two letters: one from his current perspective as an older man looking back; a second, through the eyes of the child, living each day as if it unfolded, different (perhaps) from the one before, without agenda, expectation, judgment, or even context.

The letters were strikingly different. The adult had analyzed the mother figure, compared her (generally unfavorably) to other, more benign influences, struggled with the guilt and conflict associated with both blaming one of the more significant formative influences in his life and needing to make peace with and forgive her. The adult's 'version' of his childhood had, in effect become an oft thought of, well-worn tale, an identity that was one part 'truth' and three parts myth. Familiar in the re-telling, giving the impression of fact; but more interpretation, conclusion, a collection of deductions of how the child must have felt -- than how the child did feel.  The child's letter, on the other hand, was an account of his experiences; to be sure, containing moments of fear, confusion, discomfort, anxiety, shame -- but somehow fresh, renewed each day, freed in large part to be seen and experienced with a beginner's mind, to borrow a phrase from mindfulness literature. 

I was reminded of a film I'd seen a few months ago, Monsieur Lazhar.  It is the story of a supply teacher, employed to take over a classroom of grade four or five children in Quebec, following the in-school suiciding of their former teacher. The teachers in the school and the parents of the young students all have their own 'version' of and solution for the children's recovery from their trauma, ranging from a conspiracy of silence and denial, even removing children to other schools; through the school psychologist's well-intentioned interventions. M. Lazhar himself is not without baggage, having arrived in Canada shortly before, a political refugee seeking asylum from persecution in his home country. While less 'sophisticated' in his approach -- his teaching methods are decidedly 'old school' -- against considerable adult resistance and criticism, he eventually succeeds in giving each child a 'voice' to express his or her unique experience of the tragedy that, courtesy of all manner of adult intention, had become the 'elephant in the room' -- pervading everything, never directly addressed. The healing had begun to happen. Allowing himself the same latitude that he facilitated in his young charges, M. Lazhar too begins to heal -- as he also speaks with a child's candor and clarity.

In the past three weeks -- is that all it's been? -- as I read the never ending litany of responses to, accounts of, speculations around, and analyses of Sandy Hook, I feel the increasing presence of the 'adult'. The projections that spring from the psyches of fully formed, long-entrenched identities, 'mythologies', onto the child. I feel the compulsion to fix, prevent, protect, punish, understand, analyze -- even politicize a tragedy that, in the end, needs be given a voice, a child's voice -- if healing is to happen.

1 comment:

NONCENTS said...

Nicely, nicely.
Where am I in all this?
Probably nursing a hurt from kicking something inanimate, doing something mindless with my hands, singing something shapeless between a dirge & a jig, allowing the tears to wash away sadness & help new beginnings germinate.
Just a child in all this.