Why does this shooting feel so different, I kept wondering Friday, as I felt tears well up in my eyes, as I exchanged texts with family and friends, as I tried to do my job.
This doesn't feel like just any other massacre, I actually thought.
Then I could only wonder what had happened in my life, in our world, that such a thought could not only come to me, but even make sense to me.Cartoonists respond to the Sandy Hook shootingsMcKinstry: How to explain shooting near us to my child?Op-Ed: Trying to understand
In 15 years as a journalist I've seen a lot of massacres play out over the airwaves, and sped through city streets to attend the aftermaths of a few. I covered a war once, lived in a city wracked by explosions, saw people killed.
This doesn't feel right, I thought, as I saw President Barack Obama wipe away tears, and felt mine return. Presidents don't cry. Journalists don't cry. Does anyone, nowadays, hear news of folks they've never met, and cry?
Yeah, as it turns out. We do.
And then I realized what makes the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, so different to me, what makes this massacre so moving, this tragedy so epically, truly tragic.
It is different this time because they were not yet of the world, these kids. Their journey ended just a few feet from the start of the path, on what was supposed to be the safe stretch of trail.
Twenty-seven people were killed by a heavily armed shooter in Newtown, Conn. His attack on the school ended the lives of 20 children, most of them kindergartners. The adults will be missed and mourned, in time, but in the hours after the bullets first flew, I hardly heard them mentioned.
It was the murdered children we thought of, and their parents, and the never-to-be-opened gifts under the tree or by the menorah.
We know terrible things happen in the world. "What are you gonna do," we say to each other. "That's just how it is."
We go out, into traffic and on the train, to the office and downtown for the big meeting, and through the airport and up on the prop jet to Boston. So do our spouses and our brothers and sisters and the adults we know.
We are of the world, and it is a place where horrors happen. It's not likely. No sense worrying. But you never know, right? You just never know.
When a shooter takes down an office and everyone in it, we look for the explanation -- "disgruntled ex-employee," "disgruntled ex-boyfriend" -- and having mentally classified the incident, move on.
"Oh, it was a bad divorce and they say he was nuts."
And when the massacres happen on a college campus, or at a high school? Ask just about any parent of a high school or college student whether they think their kids are in any danger, and if they're being honest, they'll say yes.
Cars and romance and drinking parties and bad decisions. Staying out late and drugs and the wrong friends and the wrong music. These kids are of the world, and the world is a scary place.
But elementary school children -- kindergartners -- are not of the world. They are of the full-body pajamas with footies, to keep everything toasty. They are of the movies in which the plucky kid always wins, the puppy never fails to find his way home. They are of the s'mores and the stuffed animal clutched close at bedtime.
They are never to be left unsupervised. They are never to be endangered. They are fragile, delicate, not nearly ready for the world.
But the world brought its madness to them Friday. And a nation wept as it never quite had when the guns roared in Aurora, or at Virginia Tech, or even in the hallways of Columbine.
What now, I wonder. Will we finally confront the insanity and violence in our society, and the ease with which it can be translated into horrific action?
Or do we need to wait until something really bad happens?