It is December 14, 2012 – eleven days before Christmas. I am on my knees sorting through Christmas presents in England when I hear about the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
A jagged thud crashes through my heart. One young man has entered a school in America and killed twelve boys and eight girls, all ages six and seven, and six women, in just eleven minutes.
The week before this shooting I was at a nativity play in an infant school. It had a cast of thirty or so five-year-olds. The stage wriggled with over-excited donkeys; naughty shepherds; proud soldiers; stars; and a pair of angels who waved to their parents from two wobbly steps on high.
The instant I hear of the shooting I think of them. In theory the gunman in Newtown does not reach the children in my thoughts … yet somehow he does. He reaches us all. His weapons and his unbalanced mind point at all of us.
My sense of shock is far from Newtown’s grief, but my heart streaks with guilt. Wherever, and whenever a child dies, victim of adult violence, the blame stains us all.
We either look away or we learn, and to learn we must start with questions.
They may not be the right questions, and answers may be as slippery as shadows, but we must continue to search, for the mind that spat bullets in Newtown, Connecticut belongs to one of us. Such a mind has acted before, and it will act again.
Such madness can multiply as shown by war in Syria, or gang violence in big cities, and the terror and consequences for young victims, and those who love them, is immeasurable. The damage haunts us all.
What do we know about the mind? Do we know what the casual consumption of visual violence does to the brain? Have we felt loneliness, or the depths of rejection? Who are those we do not see who live around us, or amongst us? Do we understand the roots of prejudice? What can we do?
Part of a solution might be for us each to look deep into our own homes and neighbourhoods, and into the relationships and mental health of those who surround us. We need to talk to each other, to listen, and to ask questions. Perhaps then we’ll see that we don’t know ourselves, or our friends and neighbours, as well as we think.
Perhaps then we’ll get a sense of whether our focus should be on gun laws, or whether it should be on the mind. Whether we should be scrutinising our own thoughts and emotions, our own decision making processes, rather than the laws to restrain them.
It seems to me that in this digital age – frantic, fast and full of want – our complex minds need the kind of attention that our bodies have always enjoyed. We need to understand why we think the way we do, and how that makes us do what we do, if we are to learn how to manage our behaviour before the machines do.
It’s a time of great anxiety. We need to get our heads around it.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018