Friday, December 14, 2012

Grief in action

I am sitting in a cafe.
I am sitting in a cafe in Kansas City, Missouri.
I am sitting in a cafe in Kansas City, Missouri, watching crows wheel and turn against the grey sky.
I am sitting in a cafe in Kansas City, Missouri, watching crows wheel and turn against the grey sky, crying for the almost 30 people who died in Connecticut today. For the teddy bears that will wait for their child. For the many sleepless nights that will follow.

I will not talk here about gun laws; those of you who know me know my stance, those of you who disagree with me will not be swayed by my arguments.

I will not talk here about the media frenzy; those of you who know me know that I watch in awe and horror as we create modern mythologies in a moment only to tear them down a heartbeat later. By next week the media will be admiring the next new horror.

I will not talk here about my overwhelming ache at what happens now to the family of the young man who did this, my wonder at what led him there or what demons drove him.

What I want to talk about is this. How we treat each other matters. How we treat each other in the wake of something like this especially matters. We can create change and prevent tragedy only by beginning with a willingness to admit that change is necessary, tragedy is preventable and your viewpoint as well as mine may bring something valuable to the table. When we treat each other as if we are all human, as if we all have value, then we can take this collective moment and do something to prevent it from happening again. And again. And again.

If we let events like this harden us, make us more cynical, more convinced of our own rightness and their wrongness, we will never create change. We must be willing to let those we consider the opposition have a voice. What’s more, we must listen and ask the deeper questions. Why do you feel this way? What really matters here? When we ask and answer these questions we may find more common ground than we expected and, from there, we can build consensus to create change. 

We all know kids shouldn’t be shot. Let’s start with that. We all know our mental health care system has significant room for improvement. Let’s go from there. 

I have no illusions that one writer, one storyteller can individually effect the course of the world. But I do know that collectively, we are unstoppable. That if we take our collective grief and horror, if we put aside our smaller rivalries and disagreements, that we can create tremendous change. That we can together craft a new and better story that no one - not the media nor our legislators - can ignore. But we must decide to act, to use the pain we feel as fuel for passion that leads to action.

Let us tell a story of a future where we have learned from the events of today, of last week, of this year and the years prior. Let these deaths be the last time something like this happens and we remain voiceless. Let us ask what we can do that might create a world where we do more than weep, where instead we stand up and say, “No, that is not the story I will tell. That is not the world I will live in.” 

Let us act. And, in the midst of action let us be civil, let us use words as tools not as weapons. We have enough weapons already. 

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Thank you, ma'am. Getting angry is easy. Being civil takes some consideration.

  2. So, the next time you curse the driver who doesn't accelerate fast enough when the light turns green, or call the store clerk, even under your breath, a moron, because he can't tell you where the Tobasco sauce is, or scream at the garbage man as he drives away because he didn't get every last bit of trash,stop. What's another inclusive rather than alienating and exclusive was to address what has happened. What responsibility can we take for those red hot feelings that we throw around and temper them with some open hearted humanity?

  3. Laura, why would you think this might be exploitative? Your words are those of reason. I wonder often why things like this happen and with so many this year alone, something needs to be addressed and action does need to happen so this sort of thing NEVER happens again.
    This afternoon I ran an after school program with K-5 kids with a team of three staff. I do this five days a week. I watch kids play and dance, run, scream, challenge each other with checkers or other games, fall and get up, disagree and help each other. I watch them build forts out of laundry baskets. I see them come up with new ideas with what to do with the small amount of Lego we have, what you can do with a piece of string and a paper plate. Children who play and cry in the moment.
    The school withheld what had happened because they believe that the parents in the safety of their own homes would be better equipped to 'tell this story'. Every parent who came in I chose to meet at the door and explain this. Some parents had not heard about what happened. Over thirty kids were picked up by their parents. On Monday, I am sure we will be practicing lock-downs, talking about stuff we should not need to be talking about to people under 10 years of age.
    It breaks my heart. It enrages my mind. How do we act? With civility and humanity. And now.
    Thanks for your words of wisdom.
    I pray for all of those involved.

    1. Simon, I wondered if it might be exploitative to point people to this blog in the wake of what happened. I struggle with it, with the fear that I am (even inadvertently) capitalizing on such a horrible series of events.
      I don't believe I was, but I think someone could have accused me of it, with some justification.
      Thank you for your work with kids today and your kind interactions with their families. Thank you for your good heart.

  4. Such wise words, Laura. This tragedy has made me weep. I look at my sons and I think about the parents of these dead children and their pain chokes my very breath.

  5. Hey Laura,
    Glad to see you in my mind - sitting in a cafe in the midwest - being your wonderful Laura self. Writing to make sense of the world. You'll open just as many hearts out there as you did back East. That comforts me. Thanks for these words. xoxoxo


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