This time last night, sorting through Christmas presents, I heard about the school shooting in Newtown, America. The news hit me like a thud to the heart.
We may not all have had the privilege of being parents but we have all been children. Most of us can still remember the excitement of Christmas – not the horror that must now haunt the children and staff from Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut.
I was at a nativity play in an infant school last week. It had a cast of thirty or so five year olds. The stage wriggled with over-excited donkeys, shepherds who poked each other, proud soldiers, stars, and a pair of angels who, from two wobbly steps on high, giggled and waved to their parents.
Young siblings bounced on their parents’ knees; grandparents strained forward; parents flashed cameras; staff hurried around music systems – the first Christmas was unfurling all over again. We were held entranced in the palms of thirty tiny happy hands.
Last night when I heard about Newtown I remembered those children. I knew the gunman had not reached them but I also knew that somehow he had. He had reached us all.
My sense of shock can never touch Newtown’s grief but I know that across the world our hearts are streaked with guilt, pummelled by the fists of children killed.
We either look away or we learn. We must try to learn from children lost to violence and the only place to start is with questions.
What do we know about the mind – about loneliness and the casual consumption of violence through the web?
Have we thought enough about our own responsibility for isolation? About our need to involve ourselves with our neighbours and their children?
Should we talk rather than text? Visit as well Facebook? Show that lives shared in person have a dimension beyond 3D?
Do we do enough to show that Christmas is more than just an online shopping spree?
These may not be the right questions, and answers may be as slippery as shadows, but we must keep looking.
The mind that spat bullets in Connecticut appears to have been acting alone. Those that killed the children of Houla in Syria were not. For the young innocent victims the difference is irrelevant – it is what we do about such massacres that matters.