Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
— W.H. Auden
I have, over the years, written about tragedies that have touched our lives. Decades ago, there was a school bus accident that killed five local children off on a weekend trip. Their parents, along with the community, grieved long and deeply over those lost lives. Here on this page, we have shared sorrowful moments, from the Challenger disaster to Columbine to 9/11 to Aurora. We have been sad together before, but Friday’s mass killing of 20 children and seven adults in a Connecticut elementary school brings me close to despair.
It is the meaninglessness of their deaths that brings me so low. A young man who was angry or sick gathered up weapons and brought them into a school, where he slaughtered young, innocent and helpless children. How does this happen in the world? Other tragedies can be ascribed to bad timing or bad luck or bad genes or malfunctions or fanaticism or wind shear or speeding or driving drunk or rogue waves or wildfires or, heaven help us, hurricanes. But this, this, is beyond any reason or reckoning.
As the president said, these little kids are stopped forever in the moment of today. They won’t grow up or graduate or get married or have kids of their own. And their parents and sisters and brothers and grandparents are changed forever, set to walk a very lonely path. All the possibilities of learning and playing and teaching others, all the days of shared joy, stopped forever last Friday.
For me, the greatest horror came with the first words broadcast on TV. The breaking news said enough, said everything, just like the man on the street who reported seeing a plane hit the tower. Before the commentary, before the people-on-the-street interviews, before the psychologists and witnesses and experts were dragged into the picture, there were just the shocking facts of this loss: 20 children dead. Seven adults shot down. Nothing could make that worse. Nothing could make it better.