This tragedy -- this massacre, this slaughter -- is different because there is no place to hide.
We humans seek shelter, safety, escape. When threatened we run, and when someone else is threatened, we create elaborate protective layers to distance us from the victims.
That could not have been me, we tell ourselves. I never would have brought my child to a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises." I would not have left my kids with a disgruntled nanny. I am not Sikh. And I don't live on an Army base. I never go to that part of town.
We aren't stupid. All of us know in the deepest, most vulnerable corners of our hearts that these statements are excuses, not truths. Yet, we put our fingers in our ears and hum, so that all we hear are our own voices. We are vaguely aware that our insistence that "we would never" sounds like blame and judgment -- smug and self-righteous.
But really we are all terrified.
"Every parent knows there's nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm," the president said last night. "And yet we also know that with that child's very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won't -- that we can't always be there for them."
When Adam Lanza stormed the Sandy Hook Elementary School, he obliterated all the places to hide. The children not in his sights turned out to be safe behind desks and in closets, but the deaths of the 20 first-graders who crossed his path make clear the simple, horrifying truth.
Their parents can't hide anymore either. No parent can. There is nothing left to conjure from our desperate imaginations that separate our children from the ones who were dropped off for just another day of school Friday morning. There is no way to point blaming fingers at the parents here. So we have to take the blame ourselves.
"We come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child," Obama said, "because we're counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we're all parents, that they are all our children."
They are all our children. We can't hide from that. And backed against the wall, with nothing separating the parents who have lost from the parents who someday could, we find ourselves finally staring down that reality.
There is only one kind of safety for us now -- that of numbers. Together we need to refuse to accept the fact that children in the U.S. are 13 times more likely to be killed by guns than children in any other industrialized nation. Together we need to insist that mental illness is no different than breast cancer or heart disease, and its victims deserve more treatment, research and compassion. Together we need to insist that our Constitution not preach to us of the way things were, but help us make things the way they should now be.
Our hiding spots are gone, wiped out in a few moments by a 20-year-old with a semi-automatic weapon. We won't get them back anytime soon, which leaves us frightened but also determined. Because the goal should never have been to find a place to hide. The goal should be to live in a world where we don't need one.
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