I read someone quoted in a news story today, comparing her feelings regarding the Newtown massacre to how she felt following 9/11/2001. And I think many are feeling a lot like that. One may intellectually grasp the fact that horrible things are happening all the time, in the U.S. and all over the world—countless children being tortured, abused, murdered, to say nothing of what is happening to grown men and women—but seeing this kind of inexplicable single event where innocent children are randomly slaughtered, without warning … it rightly turns our stomachs and disturbs our sleep, like the visions of those people jumping from the buildings and the thought of thousands being crushed in the towers’ collapse. The word unspeakable is the one that comes to our lips, because there are no words to speak that comprehend the evil of the event. How can any of these parents be comforted? Ever?
And like that day in 2001, the horror is juxtaposed with the stories of ordinary people acting with earthshaking courage, deciding in the space of mere moments to take the correct and just action, even if meant losing their own lives. The passengers on Flight 93 had only minutes to take in what was occurring that morning, and to decide to ignore all of the deeply-ingrained advice about cooperating with hijackers in order to achieve a peaceful conclusion, and instead choose to attack the hijackers in whatever small hope there was of overcoming them and saving the aircraft, or at least frustrating their plans. In the Sandy Hook Elementary School, we are told that the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and the school’s psychologist, Mary Sherlach, on hearing the initial gunshots, rushed towards the perpetrator, despite being unarmed. They instantaneously decided that rushing the killer was the best hope of defeating him, even it resulted in their own deaths, which it did. It remains unknown at this juncture why the killer took his own life at the moment that he did, rather than continuing his mass murder, but the resistance he had encountered during his actions had to have played some role.
Perhaps just reflecting on what we know occurred, and how people responded to it, ought to be sufficient for us, a few short days after the event, instead of stretching for grand solutions to the evil acts that manifest themselves in this world. That same evil, after all, is in this world every day. An event like the Sandy Hook massacre reminds us of it and faces us with it in a way that we can’t ignore. The bravery of those who took it on reassures us that evil is not unanswered. If we believe in an ultimate justice, then we have to pray that nothing is forgotten, that wickedness chooses its own destruction, that all of the innocents are cherished, and that every act of self-sacrifice and of love is remembered forever. It is important—in fact it is vital—for us to believe that on some level nothing that is good is in vain; it is crucial to trust that every moment of love and joy shared by those parents with their children before December 14th, 2012 will somehow last forever, not negated by the nihilistic violence that consumed those minutes in the Sandy Hook Elementary school. If we live our daily lives with a strong personal sense of security and comfort, then this is not a question we’re compelled to confront very often, but it is a decisive question all the same, and it has inspired prayer since the moment prayers first emanated from a human mouth.
The tenth Psalm offers just one such prayer.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.