Good morning, everyone,
I took this photo of children playing in the Piazza in Siena, Italy on a bright, Sunday summer morning 7 years ago. I had been sitting on the cobbled piazza watching the Italians be Italian and this group of children playing, laughing, and having a wonderful time when this little girl suddenly stopped and turned her gaze to the ground, transfixed by the sight of a dead pigeon. The intensity of her gaze affected mine, and suddenly I, too, was transfixed.
Like this little girl, who was approximately the age of the children who have crept into our hearts and souls since Friday, I am often affected by images like this of a being stilled by death. I think it’s absolutely normal to try to make sense of it, to understand it, to wonder about it, to take the imagery in and process it in every way that we can.
One of the most striking videos I have ever seen was of a group of elephants who had come upon the desert-bleached bones of a member of their herd that had died the year before. The elder members of the herd touched the whitened bones with their trunks, picking them up and laying them down again, gently felt them with their huge feet…the babies of the herd coming over to investigate with just as much curiosity. And I have seen videos of various ape mothers unwilling to leave the lifeless bodies of their offspring. There is a natural process that has to happen in order to “move forward” and that time frame is different for everyone.
When I was growing up I remember my mother becoming completely absorbed in news coverage of tragedies involving families and children. She would sit in front of the television for what seemed an inordinate amount of time trying, I imagined, to make sense of it, perhaps reprocessing the sudden death of her husband – my father – and how life had changed in an instant when he died.
As the years passed, whenever I would hear about a terminally ill relative of a friend, I would feel slightly envious that they would have time to process the inevitable saying of goodbye while the person was still alive, thinking that it would be such a blessing to be certain to leave no words, no feelings, no thoughts, no sentiments unexpressed before the final goodbye.
I do not know how it is possible to process the death of someone one loves when it is entirely unexpected, as so many families in Connecticut are now doing. But I do know that it is not something that can be rushed or forced or pushed or set on automatic…like the weaponry that did the deed.
It is so easy to look the other way when it gets to be uncomfortable and too painful to look at. It is so easy to switch to another channel in our heads. It is so easy not to tarry too long there in the discomfort zone. Two of this little girl’s friends were oblivious, not sharing or sensing her kinetic fascination with the earthbound body of a creature pulled irrevocably from its life’s flight. Yet one little girl caught her friend’s gaze and took it in ever so sweetly and gently, in solidarity, perhaps, and understanding. I wish that I had had a video camera, because the moment lingered well past the instant I took this photo, until the two girls gathered themselves together once again and ran off to catch up with their playmates.
Such a running off is natural for children, who must, like all of us, deal with reality, but who must also, hopefully, be allowed to return to moments of joy and innocence and playing free of worry.
But now I wonder about us…as adults…and think it isn’t so wise to run away from what happened this week, returning so quickly to the regular tempo of our lives, as though this is just the way of it. Maybe we are meant to tarry over this event long enough to change and challenge our assumption that it will just happen again and again and again, because that’s they way life is, because we’ve become used to this sort of thing, because we’ve come to not only expect it, but to accept it.
Whenever one visits a piazza in Italy, one expects to see a dead pigeon or two.
But whenever one visits a schoolyard, one does not expect to contemplate the reality of dead children.
We should never get used to such things.
It is unacceptable for us to move on like nothing happened, like this has become our new normal.
Perhaps we should be more like the elephants, touching the event and giving honor to it for however long it takes us to change our collective future as peaceful citizens of Planet Earth. We need to promise one another something different.
We need to stare for a while and try to make sense of it before moving on.
Have a lovely Sunday, all…and thank you for reading, as always…