How does a heart become that black?
by Jason Mankey
This is a difficult time of year to be writing. Late December is usually when I relive my childhood. I’ll admit to still liking presents and digging into my stocking on Christmas morning.
I obviously don’t buy into some of the religious elements associated with the holiday (not that they were ever really there to begin with) but there’s something about sharing a ritual and tradition with my family, even when we are separated by thousands of miles. This year though, it doesn’t feel the same in light of the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Sandy Hook is a specter I just can’t escape from. I can’t flip back to my childhood when 20 kids just had theirs taken away from them. There are still presents under trees in Newtown, Connecticut addressed to the victims of last Friday’s massacre, something that makes the piles of gifts in my own house feel shallow. I can share in the grief those parents are going through, but I’ll never be able to fully grasp how deep it is and how empty their hearts must feel right now.
I’m a religious and spiritual person, and my days are mostly spent in that world. I write about religion here and in other places. I’m constantly reading about religion, and refining my understanding of it. I practice my own faith, and feel as if I have a deep relationship with my gods.
Through my research and practice, I’ve always felt as if I had an understanding of why people are drawn to religion. For some, it’s a form of moral compass; for others the essential function of religion is explanation. (“What happens after we die?: for example.) In the wake of Sandy Hook, religion — and not just my own, but all religion — makes less sense to me.
There are parts of faith that still make sense. Religion brings comfort; I feel better about last Friday’s 26 victims when thinking of them being in a better place, or awaiting another go-around on the Wheel (reincarnation). I also feel as if deity can share grief, and surrendering tears to a higher power is therapeutic. There’s an old phrase from my Christian days that comes to mind: “Take this cup of suffering away from me.”
But for all the comfort religion brings, no faith can explain the “whys” of Sandy Hook to me. I understand cancer, I understand negligence or carelessness, I can even sometimes grasp religious extremism, but I can’t for the life of me understand what darkness drives someone to shoot 20 little children.
No “loving God” would punish a nation (not to mention the families directly in the situation) due to lack of public prayer in school or the looming legalization of gay rights. Anyone who would suggest such a thing is an evil asshole, concerned not with last week’s tragedy, but with promoting their own political agenda. It’s sick and it’s wrong, and it’s shameful that people are paid to say such hurtful things.
There’s something unsettling about a world so random where 26 lives come to an end for no reason or purpose that we can understand. If God (or the gods) are with us, where was he last week when we needed her most? Explanations that lives are lost “to bring us together” doesn’t hold water with me. Those children are not an object lesson from a higher power; they were sons, daughters, brothers and sisters; all children who should be making lists to Santa Claus right about now.
Lots of people have tried to answer the “why?” of Sandy Hook for me. Guns are to blame, and then not enough guns are to blame. An inadequate system of mental health care is the culprit, as are violent images in movies and video games. There are lots of broken things in this country, and I’m sure they all play a role, but it still doesn’t answer how someone’s heart becomes that black or how a higher power we place so much trust in can allow it to happen.
I believe in faith, and I believe in my gods, and a part of me still believes that the majority of us are good people, all trying to do the right thing, but it’s all a bit harder to do than usual. A part of me feels that perhaps my gods are all grieving with us, and also wondering “Why?”