Sadness is a fascinating emotion. It is powerful: the happiest of moments can be forever wiped away by sad news, and depression is not easily cured. Sadness is enveloping, it is consuming. I have been deeply saddened by the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Although my house is not more than twenty minutes from Sandy Hook, I’m not related to anyone directly affected by the shooting and I only know three people from Newtown. But I’m feeling it all the same.
Of course I was shocked by the shooting. An event like this isn’t something that anyone exactly expects. I mourn the loss of those 28 lives. (Yes, despite what the media is reporting, 28 lives were lost that day; I won’t dignify the shooter with a name, but he deserves to be counted among the dead.) The sad truth is that tragedies like this happen all too often. No one knows the exact cause, and perhaps we never will. And each time a newspaper or website tries to pinpoint the cause, it is a fruitless effort to explain an unexplainable problem.
As much as I am mourning the loss of those innocent lives and grieving with the families of the victims, I also mourn something else. I mourn humanity; compassion; empathy. This event was a human tragedy. Human. But the reactions that I observed were not human at all. I saw a rational, professional reporter interviewing eight year-olds who just witnessed a school shooting, and asking them to describe what happened, only minutes after they were evacuated. I listened to an ABC.com news anchor talking about how much he loves picking his son up from school, while the parents of 20 children will no longer share that experience. I was shocked, horrified, and depressed. I looked down upon the media as the only people who didn’t understand that this event was more than just a story to report: it was a tragedy.
I then moved to my peers, seeking the comfort of Facebook statuses that mourned the loss of innocent lives, reached out to the victims and their families, or stated their pure disbelief that this had happened. I was looking for something to show me that sympathy and empathy were still out there. But to my surprise, instead of finding a News Feed full of sadness and compassion, I saw the formation of a political battlefield. This status says let them all have guns. That status wants to outlaw guns. Another status wants God back in the schools.
There is so much sadness, grief, and confusion that come from tragedies that it seems like an impossible task to find anything positive. But tragedies like 9/11, Katrina, the Newtown attacks – they do have a silver lining. They cause people to gather together; they bring us closer to one another. People forget their differences and remember what unites them: being a part of the human experience.
Unfortunately, the silver lining seemed to have already disappeared. The first comments I saw after this event that left 28 human beings dead were talks of policy changes, not of sadness or human compassion. That is what made me sadder than anything else. Because people had already begun to argue about policy changes, any amount of goodness that could have been salvaged from the loss of 28 lives was scraped away, post by post, comment by comment. Talks of policy changes is not something that will bring us closer together; in fact, it will take away the only good that comes from something as horrible as the Newtown tragedy.
The loss of human life is inexplicable. Some turn to God, while others turn to their family or friends, looking for the elusive answer to the question: why? And if there is any reason, any positive at all, it is that we are brought closer to one another. As a nation, we needed something to bring us together because as a people, we are more divided than I have ever seen. Now on top of the fiscal cliff arguments, gay marriage disputes, and fights about every other polarizing issue, the gun control debate has been resurrected. But the debate has not been instigated by Congress; no, the battle has begun on Facebook. Facebook! Of course gun control needs to be addressed after an event like this, but it needs to be addressed only by Congress. (In case anyone has forgotten, real politics take place on Capitol Hill, not on the internet.) Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but too often I see Facebook posts about people unfriending each other because of their differing political opinions. Instead of setting aside their differences, many are using the Newtown tragedy as an “opportunity” to reignite a debate that they have no place being a part of.
I will only ask one thing of you: to respect your fellow humans. If you can make someone else’s day brighter with a simple action, do it. As cliché as it may be, we are all in this together, and that is the message we are supposed to take from a tragedy like this. The commonality of tragedies is they bring us together: we recognize our humanity, our mortality. We learn to look out and to care for ourselves, for our friends, for our loved ones. We learn to appreciate the joys of life. Not everyone seems to agree that unity and compassion should be taken from a tragedy. But if, hell, when tragedy strikes again: please, do not be one who takes away that silver lining. Because, like life, it is oh so fleeting.