The experience at Newtown casts a long shadow across our nation. Though the months pass, we will never forget the faces of the children and their teachers, shot dead amid the fragrance of crayons, glue and juice.
One of the many things I have always loved about our democratic nation is the importance to us of the yellow school bus and what we do when we see it.
As we approach one on the road, if the stop sign comes out and the lights begin to flash, we all immediately stop. We stop to preserve the zone of safety around it and we stop at a distance to honor that zone. We stop because there is such precious cargo on board. We don't want to take any chances.
Often as I have sat in my car waiting for the children to enter or exit the bus, I get a thrill of patriotism. We belong to such a great country, a country where we value children to such an extent that we have created extraordinary safety measures for them, that each day we go to such lengths to keep them safe.
We have painted our buses yellow to alert every person on every roadway to be vigilant, careful and responsible as they drive by.
The power of story is humankind's greatest innovation and it is what binds us together. What kind of story will we tell about ourselves as a nation going forward from the Newtown tragedy?
The best stories combine a study of contrasts. Even Goodnight, Moon, seemingly simple, is Margaret Wise Brown's ingenious response to the human terror of the dark and to death itself. The bunny faces the dark because he has his warm room, the old lady whispering hush and the bright colors around him. Then there is the contrast of loneliness, nighttime and solitude, the dark outside the window. The child as a reader navigates two worlds and becomes empowered by them both.
Social issues that strike to the core of who we are or want to be are hard to talk about, especially on such issues that have contrasts, multiple sides, many perspectives. But we as Americans should not be afraid of contrasts, of multiple truths. We are really good at storytelling as a way to make sense of multiple understandings. Sharing and listening to one another's stories helps us negotiate and navigate our differences.
Abraham Lincoln stood at Gettysburg and helped us to tell a new story of the American people. He did not shy away from the hard stuff. He put it right there in his speech. But he also told the story of us in a new way. Of how we must come together and how this was the American promise and the American dream. He told the story of two things at once and made it a much better story, one that could guide our way.
We have to get much better at living with contrasts, and living side by side with people who may not agree with us, nor we with them. Let's invest in the creation of a new story of how we preserve all people's personal freedoms while building an American future that first and foremost takes good care of children.
I propose the governors of all states together create a school safety advisory council of experts. This council would be charged with long-term planning and deliberations about child safety and would be representative of multiple points of view. The council would make a plan to counteract the long-term challenges that threaten our children's safety: how to manage ownership of guns with safety precautions for them and responsible gun ownership and maintenance, but also how to counteract the insidious effect of bullying over time upon a marginalized child, or lack of access to mental health care for adolescents. All of these challenges may have played an important role in what happened at Newtown. The council would be taken seriously by the government and business world alike and its findings would be important and deeply considered.
To begin to tell a new story about who we are and how we respond to such tragedy, we have to all be willing to see that there are nuances, contrasts and multiple perspectives on every subject. This won't happen overnight. Lincoln had years of thinking and collaborating (with people he did not always agree with) before he wrote the brilliant address that changed the American story.
Let's not let the tragedy of Newtown ever be forgotten. Let us begin a new American story. Let the promise of the school bus guide our way.
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