I slowly drove up the hill, navigating my car between parked vehicles on both sides of the road. At the crest, I heard the NPR reporter announce, in a monotonous tone with which I’ve become so familiar, that at the top of the hour they would be giving an emergency report about the elementary school shooting. My heart immediately sank to the pit of my stomach. Another shooting. Again. I pulled over in front of my house, and sat in my car, engine quietly idling, staring blankly ahead.
I waited the last few moments in silence, as the seconds turned to minutes, and the minutes finally turned into noon. Please, I thought. Don’t let this be a really bad one. Which thought completely turned my stomach; as though there could ever be a shooting in an elementary school that wasn’t a really bad one.
28 dead, they thought. Mostly children. Children.
I was awash with emotion. I felt glued to my seat, incapable of moving. The simultaneous dread, horror, heartache, and rage weighed down upon me like some impossibly heavy force. I imagined this instant unbearable burden that we as a nation were suddenly and cruelly forced to endure upon our souls. And I realized it was nothing as compared to what the people of Newtown were feeling. And would be feeling. And would forever feel. The soul of Newtown had been destroyed.
My first reaction was to naturally think of gun control. But very quickly, my racing, emotion driven thoughts strangely and solidly coalesced into one painful conclusion; this is our fault. Sane people don’t shoot 20 children. Somehow, as with millions of others in this country, we as a society have failed this young man who committed this despicable act. And in failing this young man, we have sacrificed 20 young children upon the alter of indifference.
We care when children are harmed. We care when students are massacred. We care when Congresswomen are near-fatally shot. We care when triggers are squeezed, and fiery hot rounds explode through barrels seeking to pierce flesh, rend organs, and steal the lives from those we love. Or don’t love. From those we know. Or strangers. We care when tragedy strikes. But in between mass killings, and as millions of mentally unhealthy people languish in jails, we turn a blind eye. We worry more about self inflicted heart disease and diabetes, than mental illness over which people have no control.
We wait for the next massacre.
And then we do it again. And again. And again.
When is enough, enough? When will we wake up, and realize that mental health education is an issue tantamount to physical healthcare? That without more available care, we will continue to inundate our prisons with the mentally ill? How many Newtown’s, and Littleton’s, and Virginia Tech’s, and Columbine’s must there be, before we take care of those who are most stigmatized and disadvantaged in our society?
We owe it to these people to do better. We owe it to ourselves to do better. But most of all, we owe it to every single victim who has died by the hand of someone who fell through the gaping cracks in our mental healthcare system.
We owe it to 20 first graders, and the 6 heros who loved, taught, and died with them.