Monday, December 17, 2012

Black Christmas

I have been dreading this moment, afraid of oversentimentalizing this shooting, this massacre, wondering why that word begins with a sacred prefix—it doesn’t look so evil in print… and how names change everything--- the way we’ll startle now when we hear these—Sandy Hook, Lanza, even Connecticut.  

We have listened to Anderson Cooper skipping over the few unpronounceable last names, refusing to repeat that of the shooter;  we have watched the CNN guy drawing diagrams on the screen.  We have not seen the chalk outlines and the blood, we have not seen parents beating their heads on the ground,  on walls, wanting to hold the corpses of their children before they are cold.  We have heard no screams.  We have imprinted the streets and landmarks of Newtown like a summer memory, we have tried to compare and contrast one horror with another; we have imagined our own phone call, the unbearable moment between the siren and the scream. 

We are all avoiding one another in the grocery store--- we do not look; we are guilty because our children are safe, we are buying food for our dinner, counting money--- things that are unthinkable for fresh grief.  We go home and turn on our televisions, some of us wondering why the image of the Palestinian father waving the corpse of his child several days ago at the Gaza border did not bring tears to our president.   Those New Yorkers still homeless and cold from the hurricane may feel more neglected and sad.   Bon Jovi and Bruce have spoken too many times now; they are silent.  This is not climate change or retribution of Mother Nature or even a drunk driver.  Maybe the shooter watched the concert on television.  It’s fairly likely that he did.  He may even have watched with his mother, shared popcorn or her home-baked Christmas cookies, no matter how much he hated it. 

I have gone over the seven sins tonight.  I am guilty of most of them, at some time or another.  I walked in the cold rain at midnight; it felt like some kind of punishment.  I passed the dogwalkers talking to illicit lovers on their phones, the secret ice cream eaters,  the possibility junkies—exchanging cards and sharing cigars with their neighbor.  I can rattle off all seven, although I often leave one out.  I mean--- I commit at least one every day—lust (passion--is this not good?), sloth, anger with frequency.   Gluttony I cannot afford, nor greed—and envy—well, I leave that to my neighbors when they compare their husbands’ end-of-year bonuses.  Pride—well, are we not supposed to be proud of our children when they are good, when they are brave?

I am mostly angry today.  None of this makes sense.  I try to feel empathy for the shooter, who apparently had none.  It is unbearable to empathize with the parents; any of us who has lost a child, who has even had one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls which years later has scarred over but still feels like a wound.   Where the fear is a noose and sometimes we hear the word ‘hospital’ or ‘jail’ and we breathe.   But we know the odds are against us, somehow.  And whether our own or our neighbor’s, we will have to bear some day the unbearable.  

My own was so young I have no photograph.  She had no favorite toy animal or song; there was so little to say.  I have only the reality that nothing rhymes with heartbreak or even with Christmas.   And on cold rainy nights when we try to grace someone else’s grief with our own, there are used condoms on the street, and on some blocks there are needles and half-empty coke bottles, and people sleeping, in old blankets and cardboard boxes, on church steps.

I am walking with the ghosts, glad my own drivers license has expired and who can ever afford a car anyway, because I’d be the one picking up hitchhikers, hoping I’ll come across someone I am missing, or their double, hoping I’ll make it across some bridge and maybe change someone’s life so when they get home they’ll put on their black clothes and pick up a rifle and decide not to load it—to go out for a walk in the rain or a drive, maybe, and sit on someone’s grave in some churchyard cemetery with a few cans of beer, and it will be enough.   

But the sirens will never stop, the scream is always there, within or out-of-earshot.  The dread is part of the prayer, the whisper is part of the message, the blood is on the inside or the outside.  For some of us God is inside the church; for others He is in the graveyard.  For some He is the stuff inside a needle, or in a glass, for some He is a rifle, or the madness inside our head.  For some He is the space between the siren and the scream:  the quiet space, the dead space, this silent night where you have to know about stars to believe they are behind the foggy mist.  And where you just might pretend for a few dreamless hours, in some light-years-distant non-lonely universe, that yes, there are sins and there are even maybe guns, but there is no ammunition-- that they forgot to invent that-- only blanks, and some fear, yes... but it is night and  things are as they were, and as they will be, same as it ever was…

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