There Are No Words

I can't describe the feelings that the events in Sandy Hook have triggered in me.  There are so many simultaneously that they've just melted into a thick stew.  I want to rage, I want to weep, I want to scream.  I want to bring the guy who did it back to life (I won't use his name; no one should know it) just so I can inflict incredible pain on him. 

I don't know where I stand on gun control.  I don't know where I stand on conceal carry.  I'm not even sure where I stand on the second amendment anymore.  I do know one thing.  What we are doing is not working.  I'm prepared, personally, as a US citizen, to condone drastic action.  This situation is untenable.  I also know that I am sick of cowardice: the cowardice of the gunmen who keep taking their own lives, the cowardice of the governments that don't take action to prevent things like this from happening, and the cowardice of this country's citizens (including myself) in not demanding more action.

A friend of mine, trying to deal with his feelings on the situation, wrote a short piece.  It helped me to read it.  This person asked to remain anonymous, so I won't name him.  But I felt his thoughts were worth sharing.  I hope it feels the same way to you.



            When I woke today and checked Facebook while drinking my morning coffee, I found that something bad had happened.  It wasn’t clear exactly what it was, as Facebook statuses responding to tragedy tend to be oblique expressions of sorrow.  After a visit to the public radio website, I knew that there had been yet another mass shooting, this one at an elementary school in Connecticut.  Twenty-eight people had been killed, including the shooter; eighteen of them were children.
            It’s not easy for me to express how I feel when I see events like these.  On the one hand, I have the natural human reaction of horror and sorrow.  But there’s another part of me, the one that’s worked in an urban emergency department for his entire life, the one that’s been deployed to combat zones, that realizes that tragedies like this are not strange; they’re the common thread of human existence.  They’re always happening; usually they are far away or spread across enough time and space that we can ignore them.  An additional twenty-eight deaths only doubles the average number of people killed each day by firearms in the U.S.  It’s not even close to the number of people killed by violence in a day in a Middle Eastern civil war, or the number of people who die from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa each day.  Ten thousand times as many people died in the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti; many of them were children.  The part of my mind that knows these things crashed against the part that felt the horror of the death of eighteen kindergarteners, and eventually the whole thing came to rest as an unstable tumulus of twisted thoughts, threatening to shift in unexpected ways if it were examined more closely.
            As I drove into the lab where I work, I listened to the news.  State troopers gave terse and limited statements about what had happened.  A criminologist offered a florid and ridiculous description of the personality traits shared by mass murderers, and the psychologist in me cringed at his increasingly baroque phraseology.  Prominent Democratic politicians said that now was not the time to talk about gun control, and people who were less concerned with running afoul of the gun-nut lobby pointed out how stupid those statements were.
            After a brief and subdued round of greetings to my colleagues (I didn’t know if they had heard the news, and didn’t want to break it to them if they hadn’t), I went down into our animal testing rooms.  I stacked cages full of transgenic mice onto a rolling cart and took them to a testing room, where I coaxed them to run out of pool of harsh light, across a balance beam, to a small, dark, safe enclosure.
            This kind of behavioral testing is intimate; one handles each animal repeatedly, removing them from the small polycarbonate boxes which are their homes and placing them on the apparatus, then removing them and returning them to their cages.  Mice, like babies, have no regard for where they urinate or defecate, and a great deal of time is spent cleaning their excreta from the beam.  If they are having difficulty with the test (these mice were models of human Parkinson’s disease, and had begun to show the tremors and ataxia characteristic of it), one shapes and coaxes them to walk the beam, encouraging them to move along with a gentle stroke of the tail or the hindquarters. 
I peered closely at the mice, timing their latency to cross the beam, counting how many times their paws slipped as they made the traverse.  The bright glare of the desk lamp cast highlights in the flyaway fur on their backs, and I was forcibly reminded of what the sun looked like when it shone through the fine hair of a child.  I caught a mouse that slipped from the beam; it lay warm in my gloved hand, moving about, sniffing, trying to burrow under my thumb to hide from the aversive light.  I thought of the fragility of small things, and their beauty.