December 19, 2012: Rush to Judgment?

[Here’s another op-ed piece hot off the press—or, should I say, JUST e-mailed toThe Boston Globe.]

Rush to Judgment?

How easy, immediately after the Newtown massacre, to want to blame or to fix. How easy to blame the death of twenty-six people, twenty of them children, on a horribly troubled young man’s “personality disorder” or on our inadequate mental health system. How easy to want to fix our gun safety laws and to ban assault weapons immediately, or to radically improve access to quality mental health services. Let’s fix this nightmare right now, our hearts cry out, while our sadness and outrage are most acute.

But, I’d like to suggest, before we can fix—and there’s plenty to fix—we need to mourn. Individually and collectively we need to pause, to take whatever time is needed to acknowledge our pain and our brokenness. For, I suggest, it is from that deep, sorrowful place within each of us that the hard questions will eventually emerge. It will be our answers to these hard questions, not our all too human impulse to blame or to fix, that must inform our future actions.

Why do I, an ardent supporter of gun safety and accessible mental health care suggest this? A stunned and pained face I glimpsed yesterday among the holiday-shopping crowds at Porter Square is why. That young woman’s public sorrow reflected my own and called to mind the days following September 11th when so many of us were visibly bereft.

On a lovely fall afternoon a couple of weeks after the attack, for example, strolling to the end of Rockport’s Bearskin Neck, I came upon a hushed crowd simply sitting on the jetty’s rocks and looking out over the water. Seated among that silent crowd and looking at their pained faces, I’d felt our shared grief meant something different, something thoughtful, something wise would happen in response to that heinous attack. I believed that our shared grief meant a different outcome from a response engendered by anger or fear or the need for revenge. Eleven years and two wars later, thousands killed, our civil liberties thwarted, trillions spent on The War on Terror; how dead wrong I was!

I also remember, soon after that lovely afternoon, calling Senator Kennedy’s office to say much the same things at much the same length and to hear a young, bored voice on the other end reply, when I’d finally stopped to catch my breath, “So. Restraint?”

Our shared grief can guide us; so can the thousands of voices among us who have lost family members to violence; Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York, for example, or the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows or the Boston-based Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Let’s listen.

After Columbine, after the brutal attack on Gabby Gifford and eighteen others in a Tucson parking lot, after Aurora, after Newtown, let’s get it right this time.

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