We're left this sad December morning with a somewhat useless preoccupation, a relentless cruel wondering.
We gaze at our own children, and the wistful questions occur to us. How many Christmas presents were already purchased and wrapped and under the tree? How many presents will go unopened next week in Newtown, Conn.? What now are the families to do with them? How could these packages ever be enjoyed, but, simultaneously, how could they ever be discarded?
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How many children's dreams will go unfulfilled? How many will never be dreamed? In a hail of gunfire, they lost not just their young lives, but also such long and beckoning futures.
How does a parent endure such a loss? How many mothers' hopes and dreams were wrapped inside those holiday packages? How much fatherly love did those presents contain?
These are the gifts so arbitrarily stolen in horror Friday at a schoolhouse in Connecticut.
How do the parents ever, ever survive?
And what are we as a nation, as a culture, as neighbors, ever going to be able to do about it?
A quarter century ago, a 30-year-old baby sitter under psychiatric care walked into an elementary school in Winnetka and opened fire. The death toll was not as high as in Friday's tragedy, but the attack was just as terrifying and the pain ran just as deep.
Much has changed since then. Tougher gun-control laws. Better appreciation for mental health (although not necessarily better funding for it). Stronger security at our schools. Improved training for faculty and other personnel.
And yet, we feel no more secure. No parent or teacher lives anymore in ignorant bliss. Everyone with children feels at least an occasional pause at sending them off to school. Every teacher stops at least occasionally at the schoolhouse door.
A lot has changed, and yet we live in a time when these sudden outbursts of random violence seem like frequent companions.
How do you explain the inexplicable? More significantly, how do you resolve it?
The case in Newtown will be dissected, as was the case in Winnetka, as have all the cases in between. We'll review sociological implications, legislation and a range of practical things. We must do all that. As a society, what alternative do we have?
For now, in the raw horror of this, the best we can do perhaps is to send out prayers and support for fellow Americans suffering the worst trauma.
But one response is even more vital:
Remember how fragile life is. Be thankful for its many blessings, no matter how small. Show kindness to your neighbors. And to strangers. Hug your kids, not just today but often. Tell them repeatedly how incessantly precious they are.
As these tragedies sadly demonstrate, there are limits to the measures of protection we can provide.
But there are none to the amount of love we can give. Give it abundantly.