I probably started and aborted a dozen different columns before I wrote this one. What happened Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., doesn’t lend itself to easy expression. After all, the massacre which stole away the lives of 27 people, including 20 children, so exceeds the capacity of mere words that even remarks like “words fail me” seem trite and clichéd.
Yet words dominate the discourse in the wake of the tragedy. Of course, the nature of this unimaginable horror engenders the usual debates about gun control. And the usual suspects tread far beyond the borders of dignity in trying to exploit the misery for ideological purposes. I even found myself participating in a fairly civilized discussion featuring a wide variety of viewpoints.
But my heart just wasn’t in it. To be honest, I still can’t bring myself to examine the root causes and long-term ramifications of Friday morning’s waking nightmare. I’m not suggesting the inevitable debates are not worth the time; they are. If we 2nd Amendment supporters want to be heard on topics such as abortion, then we have to be willing to listen to the opposite side on firearms. And there will be time for that talk. I just don’t feel like having it yet.
Don’t mistake my hesitation for excessive emotion; I’m neither avoiding the topic, nor am I trying to attach myself to the tragedy like one of those “victim-by-proxy” types from whom we hear way too much in the wake of every public horror. There is an issue that I want to address, and I think it offers a bit of light in this latest darkness into which a madman has plunged us. A friend of mine, an unrepentant atheist, took to expressing his rage at Friday’s horror by citing it as proof that God doesn’t — couldn’t — exist. Now, this friend of mine is neither stupid nor evil. And I’m willing to cede some space to him. After all, who among us can honestly say in moments like Friday morning that we haven’t shaken our fists and thundered at the Almighty?
But His voice was audible above the din. To be sure, the events which unfolded do quail even the stoutest of hearts. Twenty babies stolen from the world by a soul consumed by darkness; six adults who sacrificed everything to protect those they could. Every bit of the story is sad. It’s hard to imagine finding even a kernel of joy amid such unrelenting pain. Yet the proverbial rose blooms amid the thorns. Those six teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary gave up their very lives in an effort to save their charges. Against unstoppable evil (not to mention the basic instinct to preserve one’s own life), they charged an armed assailant; they threw themselves into a hail of bullets; they placed themselves directly between certain death and young life.
That’s magnificent. That’s beautiful. That’s miraculous. A world which occasionally produces a monster like Adam Lanza also produced six angels named Victoria Soto, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D’Avino and Mary Sherlach. I will bask in the spiritual light of their heavenly sacrifice rather than squat in the shadow of the murderer’s onslaught. Lanza made noise, but theirs are the voices I will hear.
We ask God to tell us why animals like Lanza exist; He answers with Soto, Hochsprung, Murphy, Rousseau, D’Avino and Sherlach. To those who refuse to believe: You’re welcome to deny Him based on what happened Friday morning in Newton. But that doesn’t mean He denies you. And to those who ask how He could allow Lanza to commit such crimes: Without villains, the world has no heroes. Without demons, there can be no angels. Without the crimes of the worst of us, we might never know the grace of our best.
The Almighty allows us the gift of free will. Some squander it, even desecrate it. Others rise to new heights of greatness. I choose to gaze just a while longer at the latter, if only to remind myself that they are — and that they carry me — closer to Him.