Coping with the senseless




I heard the news of the atrocities in Newtown, Conn., shortly before lunch, and before long, the details were pouring in. The count rose to 27 dead, 20 of whom were small children. The attacker killed himself immediately afterwards.

So what to do in the moment? After a furious period of following updates and absorbing information, I had to zone out. I put on the Rolling Stones and went back to work — Some Girls, Goats Head Soup and Tattoo You, records full of big grooves and nasty lyrics that helped me feel something close to normal for the rest of my time in the office.

But later, after dinner and drinks with friends, I found myself back in the car, staring at an hour alone with my thoughts as I drove. Initially, I kept Tattoo You going in the car, but I retreated back. I had to deal with all this in whatever insignificant way I could.

As it was in retreat, I went back to music for something to make me at least feel human and compassionate. I listened to Pearl Jam’s ode to the fallen in “Long Road,” and Eddie Vedder’s prayer to his father, “Release Me.” I listened to Radiohead’s unsettlingly soothing refrain on “Reckoner.” I jumped to a little bit of Ryan Adams, and his own tormented slice of life on Demolition.

But I ended at the first place my mind jumped when I initially heard the news. Bruce Springsteen’s “My City of Ruins” began life as a solemn look back at his dilapidated hometown, but in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it transformed into a call to action, a prayer to the living to remember those taken away and to work to remake this life we must share.

“Tell me, how do I begin again?
My city’s in ruins.”

The song moves from an accounting of a broken city, to a eulogy for what was lost, to a rally to remember that those of us still here can change the next chapter of the story. “With these hands,” he sings.

“Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up.”

These weren’t attacks by a foreign entity. This was a twisted soul who was able to wreak havoc on his own soil and against his own family. Because of today, there are people gone, some who were doing good work in the world and even more who never had a chance. In their wake are families who will forever be destroyed. There is no way to properly account for what was lost today.

Those of us who were on the sidelines, miles away at home and at work, reading along as the details unfolded in real time, we’re the ones who have an obligation to make our part of the world a better place. To make it safe to go to school, or the mall, or the movies, or a concert. It shouldn’t be so easy for the disturbed to destroy so many families in one swoop.

We’re not alone. Even when we are briefly so, we have ways of coping with the unimaginable. But ultimately, we’re in this together. It shouldn’t be so much to ask.

If you’d like to take further action to prevent gun violence, please consider visiting the Brady Campaign and get in touch with your representatives in Congress.

Dec. 14, 2012

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