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Tragedy in Colorado: How Do We Process The Unspeakable?

I’ve been crying on and off for most of this morning. For who or what specifically I’m not entirely sure, if I’m honest. The grief feels general, universal, and consuming.

I didn’t know any of the people involved in last night’s shootings in Colorado personally, but my mind is still too blurry with sadness to enter into a debate about gun control, or about the need for more mental health care options to be available to those who need it. My brain honestly can’t absorb a single additional account of what happened last night, as my consciousness is already filled to bursting with the terror I imagine those people in that theater felt, and my heart is heavy and aching for the families and what they’ve lost.

How do we process any of this? How do we help our children to process it? Do we even tell them? How? How?

*

This morning I was thinking about a movie I saw recently on DVD, We Need To Talk About Kevin. It’s a film that follows a mother dealing with a son who, quite literally from birth, seemed psychologically and emotionally broken in fundamental ways. Manipulative, conniving, hateful, hurtful, spiteful — evil. Ultimately, as a teenager, Kevin turns murderous, and his mother’s life is shattered. She is blamed for her child’s actions, and vilified for standing by him — for continuing to love her own child, even as she hates his actions and feels empathy for his victims. But who among us could force ourselves to stop loving our own children, no matter what they’d done? Could you? Could I?

Needless to say, the movie shook me. It made visually real a nightmare that as parents we all secretly carry with us, a small dark thing tucked back in some hidden joint in our soul with other parental terrors — imagined atrocities that, thankfully, none of us are likely to ever have to endure.

What if my child did something truly monstrous, truly evil? What if my child — not someone else’s child, but MY child — became a real life villain?

A mother in San Diego today knows the pain of this in ways none of us will ever know. And thank god it’s her and not us, right?

Lucky us, lucky us.

*

After dropping my daughter at camp this morning, I listened to the local NPR new anchors chatter all the way home about what happened — this relatively new, and very American, sort of tragedy. What’s wrong with us, with our culture and society, that mass killings like this happen with such frequency? Is it related to a sort of generalized desensitization toward violence, thanks at least in part to violent movies like Saw and Hostel? Are we somehow broken as a people, living as we are such rapid-fire and increasingly mediated and mechanized lives that we’ve disengaged with some essential and important part of our humanity?

Or is it guns? Or the failure of the mental health care system? Or is it something else we can’t yet name?

We want to make what may be incomprehensible and beyond logic or reason into something we can understand. We want to assess blame neatly — somewhere, anywhere — so we can move on and stop looking back into the dark terror and madness of last night. It’s human nature to look for comfort and to try to make sense of things, and I get that. But thus far, I can make no sense of this. And there is no comfort to be found anywhere — just grief and unbearable, unspeakable heartbreak.

*

How are you processing this? How are your kids (have you told them, or will you)? I can’t tie this up neatly for anyone – least of all for myself – but I’d love to hear how everyone else is coping with today’s events.

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