Some wouldn’t dare to venture to write something about yesterday, potentially because it could be too soon. I fear, though, that not speaking about it would be an injustice to those lost to the violence. As a teacher, this is my worst nightmare. We practice lockdown drills often at school and it’s hard to get students to realize how real the threat could be. I often reference Columbine, but then I realize my students were likely toddlers at the time. The word “Columbine” still sends shivers down my own spine. It’s the same sort of evil shudder that I feel when I recall the Montreal Massacre each December 6th. There is no rhyme or reason to violence, especially when it has to do with guns and mental illness.
I know many people find the long gun registry issue here in Canada both volatile and controversial, but I have, for a very long time, been in favour of such a registry. What is the problem with registering a gun? If you’re only using it to hunt, as so many do here in Northern Ontario, then that’s reasonable and you have nothing to hide, really, so why protest the registry? It’s always puzzled me a great deal as to why there is such an uproar. I think having a long gun registry was something that made Canada, well, Canada. It’s a shame, I think, that’s it’s gone now.
Don’t get me wrong; we here in Canada have had issues with gun violence, but not to the same extent or frequency as our neighbours to the south in the United States. We are quite separate from the gun culture that is prevalent in America and I think we need to maintain that distinction, more and more with each tragedy that occurs south of our border. (I am not naive, though; gang violence is on the rise and the Eaton Centre shooting in Toronto this past summer is proof of that too.)
The Montreal Massacre, on December 6th, 1989, is the one tragedy that marks what was my first year of studies as an undergraduate at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. I had just turned nineteen. I still recall the way the news of that horror, of a man shooting fourteen female engineering students at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, rippled through the halls of my school as people heard of the tragedy. For many months, female students walked more cautiously, thought more carefully, and felt fear press up against them. For all that feminism could bring us, it could not stop the bullets that killed those fourteen ambitious young women in Quebec and that was frightening.
There was the school shooting in Taber, Alberta, on April 28th, 1999, which followed closely on the heels of Columbine, in Colorado, on April 20, 1999. Both of these tragedies involved high school students. Both involved instances of mental illness in young adults.
What happened yesterday, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, strikes an entirely different chord. No one ever imagines that little children, six or seven years old, will be murdered in such a cold and senseless way. What amazes me, on the day after the tragedy, are the heartbreaking stories of heroism and sacrifice. The tale of the little boy who watched the gunman shoot his teacher and then rushed his friends right past the shooter to escape is beyond brave. The little boy’s teacher, Victoria Soto, who died protecting her charges and who was only 27, was selfless and kind. The six adults who died protecting their pupils, physically putting themselves in the way of a gun, loved their students unconditionally. They had no chance, and they probably knew that, but they likely saved lives by distracting him in his rampage. They truly teach us, even now, about the value of love for others, and of how sacrifice is often painful and fatal in such situations.
I wish it had never happened. I wish we could turn back the clocks. I think, now, of W. H. Auden’s piercing poem, “Funeral Blues.” He writes what I feel today: “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. . .The stars are not wanted now; put out every one./Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,/Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;/For nothing now can ever come to any good.” That’s how we will all feel for a while, most especially those parents who lost their children. There is no comforting word that will make them feel better now. This is the hardest of seasons for so many, but the senseless murder of innocent children is an even sharper contrast.
We must, as Emilie Parker’s father, Robbie Parker, said today, “Let this inspire us to be better, more compassionate, and caring toward other people.” He lost his six year old daughter yesterday, a young girl who loved to paint and make people smile. In the face of that loss, he speaks of kindness and caring, of being connected to one another on a human level. He teaches us, if only we all choose to listen.
Emilie Parker was six. . .
There is no rhyme or reason. . .
Only sadness. . .