Millions of words have already been written about the Sandy Hook massacre, and millions more are coming. We’ll argue about gun control, violent video games, poor mental health services, inadequate school security.
Words are tools — tools that make us human. Like tools, words can build up or tear down. They can inspire, anger, move.
If misused, they can cause injury. Properly used, they can illuminate.
Sometimes words aren’t up to the job, like grinding a granite boulder with a toothbrush. The schoolhouse murders seem to fit that description: It’s difficult to talk or write about the shootings without slipping into banality, because we just don’t have words that fully encompass such horror. Swords, it turns out, are mightier than pens.
That’s OK. The shootings
stick in our memory like granite — rough, immovable, unchanged by time.
Still, the Sandy Hook tragedy can help us understand words that can mean different things in different contexts. Take the word “courage.”
Americans rightly honor the courage of soldiers, police, firefighters and other first responders. Yet theirs is clearly a front-end bravery — the people who run into buildings or look around dangerous corners sign up for those tasks, well aware that their safety could be at risk. They’re trained and equipped for the job.
Vicki Soto, 27, wanted a different path. She and her Sandy Hook colleagues wanted to teach their eager young pupils important skills such as spelling, counting and that life has room for drawing holiday turkeys by outlining your hand. It’s likely she never considered the chance that she would be asked to put her body between her first-graders and rounds from an assault rifle.
When the time came, though, she did just that.
“Courage” fails to fully describe her sacrifice. Maybe “love” is a better word.
If we look, we can find other examples of that kind of love. On Flight 93. In an Arizona parking lot. At a Colorado movie theater or high school. In every case, the best among us have always stepped — without hesitation — between killer and victim, terror and disaster, life and death.
Contrast that with our elected leaders who, confronted with our nation’s deepest problems, seem more afraid of losing their jobs than fixing their country. It is, literally, a shame.
In the coming weeks we’ll hear many words honoring the memories of the Sandy Hook victims. Taking needed steps to prevent another bloodbath — smarter gun rules, more mental health counseling, safer school buildings, all of it — might redeem some of those words, leaving the victims’ families, and all of us, with more than mere remembrance.