What to say, what to do in response to a massacre like the most recent one in Newtown, Connecticut? As a U.S. national (and Anglican priest) who moved to Japan just over a month ago, I have felt deep gratitude for the regards and concern that the people of this country have shown me since news of the Connecticut shootings came out. And I have felt anger. How could I not when schoolkids and the adults who care for them die like that?
If I am honest with myself, my anger also stems from fear — fear that such a thing could happen again, fear that we are actually powerless to keep it from happening again. From what I can tell, it looks like people in the United States feel many of the same things.
So, the process of running from what we fear or, more likely, attacking it head-on begins. In the U.S., attack often means examining how legal and political structures might be flawed and then seeking solutions for those problems through legislation and law enforcement. I have known many people who serve in local, state and national government in the U.S. and elsewhere, and the majority by far are deep thinking and dedicated, whatever their political leanings. They must bring their wisdom to bear on school shootings and their related issues.
I also come from a religious tradition that reminds humankind that direct solutions to problems are necessary but that, by themselves, they are not enough. The last word my religion’s founder gave on how to respond to human suffering was the silence of his body with no breath left in it. This is the way of compassion, or sharing in the suffering of those who have no way out.
Of course, we have examples of Sandy Hook schoolteachers who did just that for their kids as bullets were flying. But the rest of us will almost certainly never be in a position to lay down our lives for our friends in such a dramatic way — just as we’re not at the center of the legal and political action that follows a Newtown, whether we’re foreign nationals in Japan or not .
The right answer to all our questions that arise from incidents like the Sandy Hook shootings may be no answer at all. There may be just more and more questions that never go away. How do we suffer with each other in our particular circumstances?
How do we suffer with people like the friends and family members who are grieving in Connecticut? How do we share in the suffering of people around us every day?
And how do we suffer with people like Adam Lanza, after and before they perpetrate such crimes?
To many, this sounds like giving in to defeat … as if we’re merely saying it’s the poor who are blessed. I’ve been in too many business and personal situations in which everyone’s intuition is flat wrong. That’s reason enough to believe that the way of compassion might be worth a try.
To others, the way of compassion may smack of bleeding-heart sentimentality. But … we’ve been through too much as a human race to trust in final solutions. Maybe we’re better served here and elsewhere not so much by success as by fidelity.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.