Empty Sky

The school shootings in Connecticut leave me with nothing to say. No expression of grief or outrage is adequate. Political and policy analyses seem cold and crass. Trouble is, speechlessness won’t do either.

Remaining silent doesn’t bother me. But the silence is inside. It’s not that I can’t speak. I can’t think. My thoughts are puny balloons. They don’t rise or float or pop or color the room.

Ritual, I suppose, is supposed to fill in the blank or carry us through moments such as these. It’s not working. I find the rituals of our mourning mass media hollow, repetitive, alienating. The words are always the same. “Senseless.” “Tragedy.” “Horrific.” “School shooting.”

Yes, we have a common term, “school shooting,” for what is becoming a common occurrence. What can I possibly think about that?

Can I think about violence in America? I don’t know. We have a lot of thinking about violence in America. Newspaper and magazine archives are full of it. Movies embody it. University libraries have shelves of it. Many smart people have thought about why America remains such a violent culture.

Can I think about what kind of demons convince a man that he can purge some other kind of demons from his tortured soul by slaying innocent children? Well, at least this puts a brief puff of air in a balloon, more a memory of an old thought, not a new one. As a young journalist, I covered Texas prisons. Interviewing the most violent convicts I was always unable to see past their eyes, to even begin to comprehend the coldness inside. They were another species from another planet. That’s not much of a thought, but at least it is one.

Now another thought comes, shoving aside the dim belief that I am right now supposed to confront this national horror and have something to say about it. No, this new thought says. No I’m not.

Instead, I should look hard at the empty place. Then this new thought begins to do what thoughts always do, for better or worse. It elaborates on itself. Don’t simply look at the emptiness, live in it. It’s the rare thought that says, “Turn me off, I’m not lighting anything anyway.” I can go with that. I think.

I’ve attended countless funerals, memorials services and public events that call upon us to remember a lost friend or hero. Like everyone else, I do my part when the ritual leaders ask us to pause.

This, though, this may be the first time “a moment of silence” truly was. I have the choice and I take it, and everything and everyone is alive again, not as illusion, but as possibility.

“The music we hear is but one facet of the silence it comes out of,” critic Matthew Guerrieri wrote in a new book. Rest and be kind.

Photo by Aaron Concannon under Creative Commons license.

Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith