I’m not quite sure where to begin this post, as I’ve started it now about a hundred times in as many different ways, so I’ll simply get right to it. It’s superfluous to say that what has happened in Newtown, Connecticut, this past week has thoroughly horrified me, and has prompted more tears than I’ve shed in a very long time. The whole ordeal is both beyond words (so many fall so short and then make me cringe) and, I think, (simultaneously, contradictorily) demanding of words. To say the very, very least, it is confusing.
During one of the short stints of news-watching that I’ve permitted myself, two things were said by two different people in quick succession that bypassed my ears entirely and instead lodged themselves directly into my gut. The first was spoken by President Obama during his address at Sunday’s vigil in Newtown: “Surely, we can do better than this.” Then the newscaster glanced over to camera two, where she ‘went to’ a psychologist who was offering advice to parents, children and colleagues on processing their many emotional responses, saying some people become very post-traumatically active, while others retreat. Then the psychologist said: “Some other people, the lucky artists in the world, can create some very provocative, compassionate art.”
I quickly wrote both of these lines down on the little flowery notepad on my desk, where they looked a bit odd and too important for all of those pink and green and yellow posies around them — though writing them down proved to be unnecessary, as they have taken up permanent residence in that spot in my gut.
Here’s the thing: it just so happens that eleven (eleven!) women in my life are, at this very moment, pregnant or have had a baby in the last couple of months. Counted among these eleven women are some of my very closest, very dearest friends — and their babies, both born and not quite yet born, have by extension become decidedly important little beings in my life. I feel fiercely protective of them (much less, I’m sure, than their mothers and fathers, but still), marvel and wonder at the lives they have ahead of them, feel a nerve (an auntie nerve? a maternal nerve?) freshly exposed. And this monumental disaster in Newtown has touched that nerve. Suddenly ‘we’ (and by ‘we’ I mean both my immediate circle and our generation) are responsible for creating a safe, meaningful space in which these sparklingly new people can grow. We have come out from under the shelter, or at least the buffer, of our own parents and now become that shelter ourselves.
There, at the end of that tender nerve in my gut, is where the President’s words and that psychologist’s words stung. Surely, we — literally, us, me, my husband, our parent-to-be friends — can do better than this. I don’t believe that there is one solution to be offered, as there is no way to solve what’s happened, and the systemic problems implicated are too complex and varied and controversial to be simply answered. (Though I have all the same gone on several tirades in the past few days about all manner of subjects — gun control, mental healthcare, education reform, video games — just like everyone else looking for something rational to blame.) It’s just this: surely, we can figure out a way to nourish what’s human in us and in these new little people in our care.
And then there’s the matter of the lucky artists in the world. A few years ago, I attended a panel discussion titled, “Can Art Save the World?” in which Philip Gourevitch, author of the haunting We Wish To Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, passionately answered: no. And I agree. The point here is not to save the world, but to access our selves, to connect, to be reminded of those fragile beating hearts in us. I love the way Picasso put it: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” leaving, we assume, something more central, more lasting. (Take a few people simply singing or a street scene by the painter Michel Delacroix in my parents’ kitchen.) And it seems to me that there is at least a small amount of respite there.