How long after a tragedy is it OK to laugh, to worry about trivial matters, to live our mundane lives?
We're incredible creatures, aren't we? Look at how in the span of thirty minutes we can feel horrified, outraged and saddened by the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, then before we know it, we're filling out forms for our kids' summer sports leagues.
We do this because alongside the horror, we have hope. We assume our children will live to see June. What other choice do we have? If we constantly went about our days worrying we could be the victims of violence and devastation at any moment, we'd go mad. Our children would go mad.
So yes, it's a delicate dance we do worrying and planning all at once, grieving and purposely putting it out of our minds. Many of us cried when we took our kids to school this morning. We said trite things to each other about hugging our kids tighter. Then we went to work, or the gym, or the dentist or wherever we had planned to go.
A few hours later, we remembered that the first of the funerals would be happening in the afternoon and we felt sick with guilt for ever doing anything that wasn't a perfect homage to the greatness of our children, that didn't reflect the gratitude we ought to feel for all the good and grace we've experienced in our lives.
Then twenty minutes later we were at Target, mindlessly putting the paper towels we needed in our baskets. We tossed in a pair of faux leather gloves we didn't need. We glanced at the headlines of US Weekly.
Perhaps, after the kids went to sleep we watched the talking heads on the news argue about gun control and better health care for the mentally ill, just like we did all weekend. And we heard, again, the gruesome details of all that occurred inside that school. Perhaps we kept that news screen small while we searched the TiVo guide for the start date of next season's "The Biggest Loser."
Every night, we think about the parents in Newtown who don't get to tuck in their children. Then we remember the gym that morning, the gloves, the soccer forms, the TV shows and we hate ourselves for being so shallow. We write letters to our senators. We demand change. We vow not to rest until this never happens again. Then we order shoes and jeans online because there is a sale. It's the last day of 30% off, they tell us. We know it's probably not true, but just in case, we go ahead and shop.
The people who are doing the unthinkable this week, the ones who are burying their children, they will have to eventually live in the mundane, trivial and shallow, too. I imagine they'll live in a middle space for a while first; they'll hover in that life-like place of mourning and grief that is surviving, but not quite living. Then there will be a choice. Live or die.
If any of us chooses life, if we choose to live in tragic times, we can't spend every moment thinking about murder and terror and poverty and guns and disease. We will inevitably find ourselves talking about all the peppermint bark we ate. We'll talk about how excited we are to see Les Mis on the big screen. Then we'll talk about health care and gun control. Then back to Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.
We will find a way to be sad and shallow all at once. Angry and apathetic. We will continue to do what we always do to go on.