There Are No Words
Originally published December 20, 2012
A week ago today, twenty children, all just a little older than the two of you, were murdered in their school classrooms. Mass shootings like these often feel remote to us, as in the past they have tended to take place far away. But last week’s shootings, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, happened only one state over.
As we write these words to you, the news is filled with reports of the children’s funerals, debates about the society we live in, questions about gun control and mental illness – all the things that typically happen after a mass shooting. It’s a script that we’ve seen the American people follow again and again.
We made a conscious decision not to tell you anything about what’s going on. We are deliberately hiding the news from you. Although many articles have popped up giving advice to parents on how to discuss this latest school shooting with their children, we knew from the start that there was absolutely no point in telling you about it. We don’t need a professional to tell us to hide this ongoing news story from children who are not yet four years old. And we know your preschool is not about to mention it to you either. You are far too young to comprehend, let alone process, the enormous magnitude of horror that infuses this event.
We know this because we ourselves aren’t able to handle it either. Your mother has had to turn away from the television when your father has had the news broadcasts on. Your father has been fighting tears and doing his best to keep you from seeing how upset he is.
We hope in the future you will understand our decision; truthfully, we can’t imagine that you won’t. As your parents, we make decisions every day about what you see and hear. Last Saturday, your father hid the newspapers from you before you had a chance to see them, and, as always, we never let you watch the television. Not letting you see the news about Newtown is part and parcel of parenting.
One day, you will learn about two earlier national traumas, among many others, that took place before you were born. Both of these incidents have informed our decision. In 1999, a school shooting took place at Columbine High School in Colorado. In 2001, this country experienced the 9/11 attacks, an incident as far removed from you as the Kennedy assassination was from your parents. On both of those days, your father was a teacher at a school. He remembers not just how these incidents affected him but also how they affected the students he taught. He remembers how in both cases some students found out the news before some teachers did. And he remembers how the schools responded, doing what they could to reassure the students that they were safe.
But, of course, the problem is that as much as we would like to think we can, we cannot guarantee your safety one hundred percent. No one can do that. What we can do, however, what we must do, is provide you with as much safety as we can, and with – we hate to say – the illusion of total safety. We want you to be able to grow up and enjoy your childhood as much as possible. Shielding you from the trauma of events such as Newtown is something we plan to do for as long as we can.
Sadly, the parents of the survivors of the Newtown massacre no longer have that luxury. Their children’s innocence has been shattered, probably beyond repair. Their children now must assimilate into their personal narratives the experience of hiding from a killer who hunted them, of running from a school building that once afforded them a sanctuary, of attending the funerals of their friends and siblings, and soon of trying to go back to school and adjust to a new normal, one without the twenty friends they expected to have for the rest of their lives.
We pray every day that you will never have to do the same.
May you only know love and peace. And may you be kept safe.
This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein and Nomi S. Burstein together.
About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.