Want to know a secret? I'm kind of old. I'm old enough to clearly remember the day in 1981 when John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. I was in elementary school and my classmates and I were shocked and scared. How could anyone hurt the president? To a bunch of 8 year-olds, whoever was our president seemed like an untouchable, invincible super-being. Not knowing what else to do, may classmates spent our entire recess outside near the flagpole with our hands over our hearts, repeating the Pledge of Allegience over and over until it was time to go back in.
I also remember a tragedy that happened three years later in 1984 at a McDonald's in San Ysidro, CA. A man armed to the teeth with firearms walked into the restaurant and massacred over 20 people. I read and reread an article about the event in a magazine that had bordered each page of text with pictures of each victim (many of whom were children) during happier times. I was in the sixth grade.
Then came Luby's in Killeen, TX. Kip Kinkle in Oregon. Two kids taking shots at their school in Arizona. COLUMBINE. Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City, Utah. VIRGINIA TECH. A movie theater in Aurora Colorado. A shopping mall in Portland, Oregon.
And that's not all of them. Not even close. Either the events have become increasingly more commonplace, or revolutions in media technology just make it seem that way.
What do all of the violent events that I have just listed have in common?
First off, each one was perpetrated in the United States of America by disturbed individuals with easy access to firearms. This blog post isn't about guns. If you want to read about the availability of guns in the U.S., there is already a shit-ton of information and opinions about that on the internet. This post also isn't about the state of our nation's mental health care system. Again, if you're looking for that kind of thing just hit up Google.
The second common thread is that each of these events were reported by the media on a national scale. The reasons that they garnered national (and often international) attention vary: body count, scene of the crime, age of the victims, age of the shooter(s), etc.....But this blog post isn't about how the media exploits and milks tragedies for ratings or how the immediacy of the internet often results in the spread of misinformation during or immediately after an extreme act of mass violence occurs. No, this post isn't about that at all.
This post is about the third thing that each of these horrific acts have in common. It is a common link between each of them that only I know about...and is probably the only one it matters to....
When I heard about Reagan, San Ysidro, Columbine and all of the rest that I listed and the many, many others that got lost in the din I DID NOT CRY. I reacted to each of them with shock, disbelief, anger, sympathy and dozens of other emotions...but I never had never shed a tear over the horrible and awful violence that one or two people could inflict on an unsuspecting crowd of victims.
Yesterday, that changed. When news of the mass shooting and resulting deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary in CT came over the radio, my face got hot and my eyes started to water. I was at work and asked my manager to look up the news on his phone because I was certain that I couldn't have heard it correctly. I'd heard it right. I couldn't stop the tears when they started as I was reading an early report about the deaths of adults and children at the school. I couldn't stop them for the rest of my shift, so I just kept working through them. And then I sobbed off and on throughout the day.
I'm not sure why I cried, exactly. Part of it could be because I'm now a parent of small children, even though I've heard about disgusting displays of violence against kids on the news since my children were born and my eyes have remained dry. I don't think that it was the number of lives lost, because the shooter at Virginia Tech claimed more innocent lives. Part of it could be that I tend to be emotionally vulnerable in the middle of winter when it's so dark and cold. Only part, though.
Even though I can't pinpoint exactly why I cried, I'm glad I did. It means that I'm not as jaded to violence as I'd thought. It means that I care. It means that maybe, just maybe, I can DO something and not just hear the news and think "Again? Ah, fuck it."
I think it means that I'm alive, and it's been a long while since I've really, truly felt that way.