Thinking about thinking about Newtown

For hours I have been composing this post in my head. When I sat down to write it, I stared at the blank page. I wrote something. I deleted it. I wrote something else. Then I deleted it again.

What can you say?

Words fail. I can say that this tragedy strikes close to home, because I am a lifelong resident of Connecticut, but the number of messages I've received from friends from across the country and the world tell me that you don't have to be a Nutmegger to feel this tragedy keenly. I can say that as a teacher, it's a crime that affects me personally. But the extreme youth of the victims, as well as the self-sacrifice of the adults who tried to protect them, makes this crime more appalling than any other in my memory, and you don't have to be a teacher or a parent to be devastated by these events.

Josh Stumpenhorst's incredible blog post expresses elegantly and coherently what many are feeling.

I don't know what I'm going to say to my students on Monday. I don't know if I will be able to keep it together.

On 9/11, I was in Buenos Aires, studying abroad. Far from my home and family, surrounded by people I had only known for a month, in the middle of a slow and painful breakup with a long-distance boyfriend, I found that I could not cope with the tragedy head-on. After the shock of the first few days wore off, I couldn't talk about it. I couldn't think about it. It was too painful. It was incomprehensible. The thoughts would bubble up to the surface of my mind and I would tamp them down, distract myself from thinking them.

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary reminds me of 9/11. My first instinct was to consume as much news as possible. Then, when that became unbearable, I began to distract myself from thinking about it.

In my AP Spanish class, we are studying Latin American dictatorships. We recently read the short story "Casa tomada" by Julio Cortázar and are watching the movie "La historia oficial" about Argentina's Dirty War. The thread connecting these two texts is the danger of thinking. The nameless narrator in "Casa tomada" explains his inaction in the face of an imminent takeover by a sinister force with "One can live without thinking." Alicia, the protagonist in "La historia oficial," is told repeatedly by her junta-supporting husband to stop thinking about the shady origins of their adopted daughter. The question I have been pushing my students to ask themselves is, Can you really live without thinking? How might thinking be dangerous? Is it better to think and know the terrible truth, or live in ignorant bliss? 

What I struggled with in the aftermath of 9/11, what I am continuing to struggle with as an adult, is that very question. When we are young, we like to envision ourselves as heroes; we like to believe that we are faithful to our moral code. When we are adults, when we have something to lose--family, home, security--the lines between right and wrong are less clear. When thinking becomes painful, agonizing, unbearable, is it ever acceptable to turn away from thinking?

As we attempt to pick up the pieces in the next few days, will we, as a nation, allow ourselves to be distracted from the enormity of this tragedy? Will we make excuses for not tackling the issue of gun control once and for all? Will we turn away from thinking?


  1. Follow-up: no questions or comments from students today. I found it puzzling, but I have to say I was relieved. Talking about it with my colleagues was painful; I can't imagine what it would have been like to have a major conversation about it with kids. Still impossible to comprehend.


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