We all saw the unimaginable today: News reports about little children shot in their elementary-school classrooms. Our initial impulses were largely the same, I’d guess: grief, sadness, anger, sick confusion. Who does this? Who kills five-year-old babies?
And then, when the shock wore off, our reactions differed.
I wanted to talk about it. Tweet about it. I wanted to know what the president was saying, what people in Connecticut were saying, what the news media was doing.
Other people wanted to express their feelings and their sympathy. 140 characters at a time, they summed up their fear and anger and sadness and bewilderment.
And other people wanted to not talk about it. Some of them wanted to talk about other things. Not rude or insensitive things, not complaints that clearly paled in the face of such unbelievable tragedy. Just their lives. Their day-to-day.
Those people who tweeted about their office functions, the work they were doing, their emails, their commutes, the books they were reading — they were not bad people for doing so.
It is still unprecedented and deeply, deeply strange to know what everyone is feeling and thinking on a second-by-second basis as national tragedies unfold. We still haven’t dealt with that strangeness enough to accept the fact that we all deal with horror in different ways. And it is not for any of us to dictate how people should respond.
When terrible things happen (even the most terrible things, and God, if anything qualifies…) there is still good in the midst of it. And mundane in the midst of it. And ordinary in the midst of it. Life continues.
It is not wrong or horrible or insensitive to acknowledge that. It is not evil to admit the fact that you’re working, and having lunch with friends, and doing your job, and noticing and consuming and creating other things.
Some things are so awful they’re almost impossible to process. Some of us cope with that by over-processing: By sharing every thought, by dissecting, by maintaining a running log of the things we’re feeling and thinking and hearing. Some of us cope with that by focusing on other things, at least in terms of what we publicly express.
All of those sweet babies, and their poor parents and teachers and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and babysitters — they are most important. They’re in my heart, and all of our hearts. If there was anything any of us could do to bring one of those children back, or to ease the pain of just one person who loved them, of course we would do it.
We all feel that. We all acknowledge it. But we will all express it in different ways, and some of us will choose not to express it at all.
That has to be okay.