In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
We’ve stopped in Sandy Hook any number of times over the last few years, driving between Massachusetts and New Jersey. It’s a cute little town just off route 84, about halfway between Danbury and Waterbury. It has several good lunch places, and a lovely upscale toy store in an old house that couldn’t be any more New England-y if it tried. Behind the toy store there’s a creek with several decks overlooking it, and if I remember right, even a mill wheel. The last couple of times we were there, we spent more time than was strictly necessary, just because we liked it so much.
It never occurred to me that it would make national news, and certainly not like this.
From the pictures on the news, Sandy Hook Elementary looks a whole lot like TG’s school. It has the same grades, and was probably built around the same time. The kids who were walked through the parking lot could have been TG’s classmates.
As a parent, there’s no way to avoid thinking like that. It’s just too vivid.
On Saturday I took The Boy to the Lego League state championship at WPI in Worcester. The spectator-friendly part of the event took place on a basketball court, on which teams of nine-to-eleven-year-olds ran their programmable robots through obstacle courses. (The meet also featured closed-door judging of projects the teams designed to make senior citizens’ lives easier. TB’s team developed a mechanism for putting on socks without bending over.) The parents -- hundreds of us -- were careful not to mention anything in front of the kids. But when the kids were out of earshot, most of the conversation was about the shooting. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit wondering about the wisdom of gathering all those kids in one easily accessed place so soon afterwards. Anyone could walk in by just walking in.
Of course, the same could be said of shopping malls and movie theaters. At some level, risk is just part of life. I know enough statistics to know that mathematically, the drive to Worcester was more dangerous than the event itself. But knowing that and feeling it are two different things.
Colleges are no strangers to these issues. Over the last several years, they’ve started taking a more focused approach to security issues, simply because they’ve had to.
But no single institution can become a bubble. In a culture in which gun ownership is a right and health insurance is a privilege, some awful outcomes are probably inevitable. In America, young men with serious issues can get weaponry more easily than they can get treatment. That isn’t true everywhere, which is why these shootings don’t happen everywhere.
I’ll probably get accused of “politicizing” the shooting in saying that, as if periodic massacres of innocents were just acts of Nature. But the truth is the truth. As a parent, I’d be negligent if I didn’t try to protect my kids against mortal threats. In this case, the mortal threat is political. I’m tired of having to leave the newspaper face-down on the kitchen table in the morning so TG doesn’t see the latest news about people who look like her being shot dead with legal assault rifles at school. I’m just tired of it. If that annoys some conservative somewhere, then so be it. I care a lot more about my kids than I do about appeasing someone who only read the second half of the second amendment. And I’m tired of having to find just the right words to convey to an eight year old girl why a grown man would shoot his way into a school just like hers and kill children, but that she shouldn’t worry. There are no right words for that. The very topic is an obscenity.
Until Friday, Sandy Hook was known only as a cute little town. Now it’s famous for a reason nobody would ever choose. I struggled for the right words with TG, but I think I know the right words for us adults: Enough. Enough.