The Twenty Seven

by D. W. Sabin on January 11, 2013 · 14 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Culture, High & Low

Berni

Marbledale, Ct. I was travelling back from a meeting in the Hudson Valley when the news of the Newtown Rampage reached me. The shell-shocked radio disc jockey tearfully announced the terrible news that several children had been murdered at a local elementary school and that surrounding schools were in lockdown and police were on the scene. Sandy Hook School is about a twenty-minute ride over hills and across the legendary Housatonic River from my home. Although my own kids have grown up, my town’s schools were on lock down and I was concerned for friends. These folks are my neighbors. A bloody terror was afoot in these old woods.

Newtown, Connecticut is a lovely town of wooded rolling hills whose proudest monument is a gigantic flagpole with a huge Old Glory flying aloft at its principle crossroads. A white-spired Congregational Church stands near the flagpole and the classic architecture of other denominations adorns nearby plots. Historic homes from across the eras adorn the Main Street. The Town Hall, a short turn right from the flagpole and next to a General Store possesses a fine theatre playing movies for families at a discount. A long-preserved “Sheep Fold” meadow lies along a left turn from the flagpole, a testament to the current people’s appreciation of their farming forebears. This is a quietly proud Yankee Town of people living their lives under their own control and of their own volition, vouchsafed in this effort by everlastingly supportive neighbors. Families make this town what it is, an embrace of love within the comfort of community. It is an evocation of that social contract so often hypothesized yet so little lived by people who have not had the good fortune of residing in either Newtown or her brethren across the small town landscape of New England, or any other small town in America for that matter.

Academics often speak of the virtues of small town America, but these people of New England live it without ever having to think about what it is because they simply do not have to classify it. It is their life, unadorned. This is a region of familiarity and immediacy, the corrugated hills tend to reinforce the notion that we live within a larger world but that the world at the foot of our enveloping hills is the most important treasure we possess. To be a resident of New England, you are a resident of your town first and foremost, then perhaps your county, an ephemera of abstract lines at best and then your State, a nettlesome yet cheerfully accepted obligation. We tolerate the Federal Edifice because we helped to whelp it and the notion of a “Shining City on the Hill” was born here. Home Rule and Town Meetings are our finest political attribute. There is nothing like the special thrill of a few hundred town residents assembling at a Town Meeting to tell the State it will get bupkis and having this voice or hand vote sanctified by law. Even though we export more Federal tax money than we receive by a significant amount,often times going to precisely those states who moan the loudest about Federal control, we are of the foundational colonies and proudly so.There is a sturdy security in this presumption. This is bedrock country.We’ll get over the fact that it took this Congress and Executive too many months to come to our aid after Hurricane Sandy. We abide. Our rocky landscape imbues fortitude. We take care of our own.

However, on the morning of December 14, 2012, the wretched calamity of a vicious madness breached this calm satisfaction. Evil paid a wretchedly murderous visit. The most innocent were the first to pay the price.

My first thoughts were for Newtown friends and associates although against this concern was a deeply penetrating concern about what kind of culture places its children in the secure and nurturing environment of a school only to surrender them to the whims of a mad man.

At times like these, we must finally admit that we live within a profoundly confusing era of self-destruction, violence, heedless avarice and worst of all, profound insecurity buttressed by an interminable indifference. All the advance of civilization, all of the vaunted security of law and human decency cannot protect our most innocent citizens. Babies, sitting at school desks can be machine-gunned on a tortured whim. If this is not bottom, I do not know what bottom might be.

A profound and prevailing horror and gloom descended upon these Berkshire foothills not unlike those ancient days when Deerfield, Massachusetts was attacked and her people carried off as war booty or tomahawked in the snow. The circle of violence is sturdily unbroken. Tragedy appears to be the glue that unites the ages.

And then, from our civilized precincts, Le Grand Guignol began. But this was no mere naturalist theatre. By nightfall on the day of the mass murder, every media conglomerate in the country had laid a heavy footprint down at the tiny crossroads of Sandy Hook, by the mills a mile or so from the Flagpole. Klieg Lights, cameras, reporters and all of the assorted accouterments of the modern media spectacle descended upon Newtown and we engaged in a programmed interlude of mass empathy, spiced by the piquant issue of gun control.

About a week into what had become a media spectacle, I took care of business in a neighboring town and then followed back roads into the heart of the tragedy, drawn inexorably into the spectacle. It was no problem getting there over less travelled  roads but upon arriving, all bets were off. License plates from across the northeast were all around, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine…..their headlights and tail-lights illuminated the tracery of gridlocked roads in all directions like a kind of Christmas lights. The illuminated tumult of media glared, monuments of donated Christmas trees and stuffed animals adorned every intersection. We were all aghast as well we should be. People wanted to touch the scene of horror to actually convince them that while this kind of madness is our culture’s spawn, better spirits will prevail. While paying respects, people wanted to rub shoulders with others who know this horror is not right. But then, about a week into it, the charms of National Communalism wore off for the besieged residents of Newtown. The spectacle, as it always does in modernity, began to subsume the realities of life and the people most aggrieved by the tragedy were abused by a long distance orgy of denatured empathy. The fact that we talk about violence will not make it go away.

Twenty 5-7 year old children, six educators, only one older than forty, the shooter’s mother and the confused shooter himself, twenty seven people dead in a path of wanton destruction. This destruction was blazed across the madness of a culture which has turned away from love because the absence of it pays better.

Meanwhile, the political-media burlesque begins to report newspapers publishing gun-owners addresses on the one hand or gun clubs threatening to publish newspaper editor’s addresses on the other. We arrogantly pretend to debate the meaning of the Second Amendment over the bodies of twenty bright-faced babies and their brave teachers. Every political hack within a wide sniff of the Washington Beltway slacks their thirst on this abominable tragedy for their own benefit and still, no one questions the profound rot that lies at the base of our gnawing culture of want against a backdrop of reduced opportunity.

Personally, I’d swallow a spirited defense of the second amendment if this whipsawed regime of twittering imbeciles was a culture worth saving. The Security apparatus entrenching itself and the very notion of Federally mandated security drones aloft over domestic skies arouses suspicions behind the gun control debate. To add insult, the maneuverings of the Fiscal Cliff debate coupled with the unrepentantly preening behavior of Washington in general sickens me. Our culture’s violence has come home to roost.The surest route to riches is engaging one’s self in something prohibited or enriched by loopholes in the law. Ethics obviously went out with the Fiscal Crisis. We look, finally to not be able to hold onto the Republic as Ben Franklin suggested. No amount of legislation will stave off the eventual destruction of a culture that has forsaken love because simpler entertainments are easier.

This is my tribute to the beautiful babies of Newtown. My America is an America of Love. It is time to make Love stronger than hate because hate seems now to be winning. For Emilie Parker, whose Father bravely counseled forgiveness, for the jazzman’s little treat Ana M. Marquez-Greene, for all the little urchins of Sandy Hook school and their brave young teachers who protected their charges, it is time we begin to pursue Love with the strength and vigor of urges we now so blithely surrender to hate and inchoate want. This is not a debate about the lack of gun control as much as it is a debate about the absence of love within a culture that continues to witness the slaughtering of innocents as though it were some kind of remote reality show.

Unfortunately, it will be business as usual in Foggy Bottom, collateral damages seem to be simply a line item in its deficit spending budget of special interests. Gun control legislation might likely result in but another perversion reprising Prohibition, enriching precisely those who we find most repugnant.

To the Sandy Hook 27, I profess Love and Love only, I will not sunder your memory with legislative opportunity. Love, and love alone is the only effective ammunition firing back against the madness visited upon us.

The people of Newtown, in their grief, hold this in abundance.Your giant flagpole, at half-mast is our touchstone.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Robb Davis January 11, 2013 at 9:55 am

This week I sat in a district school office with administrators seeking a different way to deal with the many discipline challenges in their school. The conversation was built around the promise of restorative justice–an approach that seeks to humanize victims and offenders and encourage the latter to name the violence of their acts and work to “make things right”. The word “love” was not used but the idea of the humanity of eveyone involved was.

I wonder if we can talk about love when we don’t even acknowledge that the “other” is human? Can one love an “object” (strictly speaking)? Whatever the case, I thank Mr Sabin for having the courage to name our need for love. I am only suggesting that we may need to address the many “practices” of objectivization and dehumanization in our culture before we can genuinely use that word. Thanks so much for this piece.

avatar Jon Cook January 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm

A well written and touching piece, but one, I think, that misses the mark on reality, even though its concluding focus on Love I absolutely agree with. This praise of the New England small town, where people “lives under their own control and of their own volition, vouchsafed in this effort by everlastingly supportive neighbors [and families that] make this town what it is, an embrace of love within the comfort of community” make it sound as if the killer was some Joker from Gotham City; he wasn’t, he was one of the town’s own. That idyllic community watched a man abandon his responsibility to his wife and difficult (and probably mentally ill) son, and then left her to deal with him on her own. The author calls for “Love and Love only,” yet is reduced to dehumanizing one of the community’s members as a “mad man”. He most certainly was mad at the time of the tragedy, but I see in Newtown not an idyll struck by random tragedy but a mirror of our whole society, in that we think we can tease, bully, or even just ignore those who if truth be told need an extra dose of Love, who might make our attempts at community quite a bit harder, and then we are surprised when they strike out.

Are we willing to Love those who are hardest to love, or only those easiest?

avatar John Haas January 11, 2013 at 9:39 pm

“If this is not bottom, I do not know what bottom might be.” Nice, that.

“To the Sandy Hook 27, I profess Love and Love only, I will not sunder your memory with legislative opportunity. Love, and love alone is the only effective ammunition firing back against the madness visited upon us.”

First, “Sunder,” or “sully”? Second, really? “Love” is better than (effective) legislation? How does that work?

avatar John Médaille January 12, 2013 at 4:52 pm

What does “love” mean in this context? Is it just some warm feeling that would be “sullied” by legislative action? Is it an invitation to do nothing? I’m just a little bit lost as to what the point of this post is.

avatar Thomas McCullough January 12, 2013 at 9:02 pm

The killer was probably some kind of crazy, an unpredictable and not as such a result of our society. What we can be blamed for is the form crazy takes in America – hi tech violence. What else we can blamed for is the access to mass production technology we provide readily available to the crazy. Crazy can cut one heck of a swath through us before any police response time.

There has been a series of actually fairly intelligent conservative articles articulating genuine weaknesses and evils of our society that do lead frequently to violence and passive tolerance of violence. It is, however, always, ALWAYS “It’s this: it’s NOT guns.” The priority of these commentators is obvious.

Mr. Sabin, what emotional, civic or spiritual stance of community would have influenced that man’s actions there in yet another house with its well-stocked larder of death?

avatar ck January 14, 2013 at 10:46 am

I live in Sandy Hook and I attend St. Rose of Lima, and I’m glad that the media whores are finally gone. The day after the event, after attending the Saturday evening Mass, upon seeing me walking with my brood, a guy came up to me and said “I am ___ ____ from the New York Times. Did you have any children at Sandy Hook that day?” I said no and that he’d better watch himself.

I cannot believe these whores who seek Pulitzer prizes and make millions on the suffering of a little town. The idiotic moralizing of Anderson Cooper and the stupid conduct of Peirs Morgan are disappointing and infuriating. These people truly are “barbarians in brooks brothers suits.”

In my book, the only people fit to talk about Sandy Hook are the Newtowners and people of good faith like neighbors such as DW Sabin and the Front Porch Republic. On the other hand, the media whores speak with no faith.

[My wife suggested we Newtowners need a lesson in the history, humanities, and arts of Sandy Hook, Newtown taught by Bill Kauffman. He once said "Get off your knees, Mississippi!" Perhaps he could encourage us Newtowners to do the same.]

avatar ck January 14, 2013 at 11:09 am

“Mr. Sabin, what emotional, civic or spiritual stance of community would have influenced that man’s actions there in yet another house with its well-stocked larder of death?”

What about the soul crushing effect that the divorce and separation of the Lanza parents had on Adam? What about the effective abandonment of Adam by Mr. Lanza? I think we as a society have given a free pass to Adam Lanza’s father.

Also nota bene, this sort of mass murder suicide has shown a trend of occuring in upper-middle class “well educated” locales such as Columbine, CO and Virginia Tech. The inner cities have different forms of violence which tends not to involve mass murder suicide. Is there something not right going on with places like Columbine and Newtown? Are we educating are children to be self obsessed narcisists? Do we ignore the virtues in favor of materialistic answers? Yes, yes and yes.

No amount of gun control, mental health advocacy or other STEM based solution will resolve our problems. The tragedy at Sandy Hook presents us with what Alasdair Macintyre has coined as an “epistemelogical crisis” to which only an appeal to the virtues (which virtues of course) will right our course.

avatar D.W. Sabin January 14, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Mr. Cook, What else is a man who shoots babies other than “mad”? I preferred to characterize the act itself as madness and evil although I would not go so far as to call him a “victim” by any means, despite his father’s absence. If Divorce was the cause of this terrible event, we’d have a whole lot more murders than we do. I don’t much like the perpetrator as victim ideology.

To the rest, perhaps my response to Mr. Medaille might provide some answers to a problem whose roots remain impenetrably complex to us. If not, I got bupkis.

John, perhaps my solution is too simple or simplistic or unrealistic for you. Perhaps you lost interest and failed to complete the essay and my brief explanatory comments on legislation but this is not the first nor likely the last time you will claim to be lost by my points. I’m perfectly content with your corner on the market of hard-nosed rationality. But since you asked, the central point of my misty missive is that the culture has abandoned love in favor of cheaper thrills. Despite your characterization that I may be indulging in wooly-headed romantic revery, I do not consider “love” to be at all a pejorative or simply a source of “warm feelings”. Love is also fierce and places significant demands.

If anyone seriously thinks additional legislation or outright gun bans will eliminate future occurrences of the type we just experienced, I would submit that they are the ones being “unrealistic”, not I. To such practicing amnesiacs, I might direct their thoughts to the wonders of Prohibition and our various legislative “wars on”. The Anti-Saloon League and their barrel hatcheteers successfully pressured the government into outlawing liquor only to watch as the act spawned an epic wave of illegality, crime and the birth of an Organized Crime Monolith that had never existed to such an extent before. Our professed War on Drugs sees an adjacent nation plunged into anarchy and near narco-state violence as we learn our own esteemed banks laundered their money, the same banks that plunged us into financial panic. Our steady consumption of said drugs remains unabated. There is no sense to examining our “War on Poverty”, we declared victory and retreated from that a long time ago. Legislation seems to be the gift that keeps on reneging.

No, I profess a commitment to a fierce love that will counteract the erosion of the Republic in this craven time….a time when love is characterized by too many as sentimental or unrealistic. Love is one of humanity’s most powerful forces and is the basis of our better historical actions. Our recreant Congress cannot be expected to produce any worthwhile legislation without a public that renews its faith in the power, obligations and vitality of love. Instead, the various factotums of our increasingly grasping government will clamor to gain campaign donations from crusading gun opponents on the one hand and paranoid gun owners on the other, while a vast silent majority of reasonable people who occupy the great spaces along the scale between the two fanatic wings must bear witness to the sordid theatre of half-truths all around. They will have to fund the show as well, and pay down its increasing debt a few generations into the future.

No, I’m not at all looking for “warm feelings”, I’m suggesting a re-embrace of fiercely productive love. Warm aint good enough , particularly warmed over half-wit legislation proffered by preening partisan technocrats backed by think tanks who give thinking a bad name.

avatar Jon Cook January 15, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Mr. Sabin, I’m sure we would very largely agree if we were face to face. I just would have liked to see some of the fierce love displayed before the tragedy, fierce love that would deny a man’s desire for a no-fault walk-away divorce, or fierce love that would invade a struggling woman’s privacy with some fiercely compasssionate help. No, I do not absolve the shooter of his guilt, but surely we all can see in these recent incidents men who were without any wisp of community, and there is no indication that any community tried to reach out to help them. Could we help them? Perhaps not, but it sure would be nice to see evidence that we tried…that would be what would counteract the erosion of our Republic…with nothing to add I cede the last word.

avatar robert m. peters January 15, 2013 at 10:41 pm

I paraphrase Flannery O’Connor when I type that good fiction written by a good writer must course its way between the pitfalls of sentimentalism and pornography. Well, in the horrendous events at Sandy Hook School and their aftermath, we see that life and death in America have become a fiction, a hyped media event, even the shooting itself a staged act in the murderous mind of an estranged, alienated and shriveled self, in which all has been given over to sentimentalism and pornography with our President playing his role. weeping like the walrus before the oysters, even as his advocacy and his policies continue to further the murder of millions of the unborn and even as his drones kill scores if not hundreds of innocent children; with the media whores upping their ratings, furthering their carries and pursuing their personal and ideological agendas in the wake of so much blood and sorrow. Like flocks of differentiated carrion eaters the lawyers and the grief counselors come. It is a sick society which believes that it must counsel away grief and cannot recognize that grief is herself the great counselor, a gift of Grace and that grief is communal only where there is true community and not one of fiction. Finally there is we, the American people, already addicted to a sentimental and pornographic myth of our own national grandeur, who participate in the sentimental pornography by sending teddy bears, flowers and cards, as if we can become the weeping global village and the extended families of the murdered children.

One can, of course, “at a distance,” with all of the implications of that phrase, have a degree of sympathy with the suffering; one can, if one has had very similar experiences, have empathy; one cannot, however, have compassion, rooted in caritas, unless there is immediacy in all of the nuances of that term or at least mediated immediacy, both embodied in the work of Christ.

My father gave me an example in his own life of immediacy and the compassion, unexpected, unintentional and unwanted, which came out of it. During a prolonged lull in a fierce battle in June of 1944, he came upon a dying German soldier, young, who reminded him of his brother who, three years older than my father, had died of appendicitis. He stopped, touched the soldier, said a quick prayer and watched him die. He hurried on then into the dying lull, into that place where Iron Crosses and Congressional Medals grow – the horror of battle. In such immediacy on can have true compassion, not the sentimental and pornographic counterfeit. My father told me his story as I sat on his death watch. Compassion does not seek the media nor does it aggrandize itself. I am quite sure, that because the divine order simply makes it necessary, that there was true compassion at Sandy Hook School and in the community, the real community; but that compassion will not be known to the world because it seeks not its own and because it cannot be recognized by a people who “know” only the counterfeit, counterfeit like our money and the artificial aromas which we crave in our candles.

avatar Flavius January 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Fierce love is love that refuses to say no to life and to God Himself after it has looked into the heart of darkness and seen the worst – the sacrifice of the innocents.
It is the love that Ivan Karamazov was incapable of finding in himself when he dwelled on similarly outrageous evils perpetrated against children, evils based on events Dostoievski took from actual occurences – a landowner loosing his hounds to tear asunder an 8 year old boy in front of his mother because the boy had thrown a stone, injuring the paw of his favorite dog; others.
It isn’t often found in the world, this fierce love, because most people need to look away from the horror of evil, or divert themselves in some false hope that they can find ways to beat the Devil back, devise some measure that God missed or chose not to exercise, which, of course, they can’t.
Evil in the world is ineradicable, and it will engulf the most innocent among us; and the deeper this understanding penetrates into the soul, the harder it is to go on without this ferocious love that you speak of.
The politics of disaster response has its uses; some may even prove salutary beyond merely satisfying a sentimental need in people before the herd moves on, although I doubt it. More likely there will result just more government foreclosure on the freedoms of the general public without dimishing in the least these eruptions of evil.

avatar robert m. peters January 16, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Flavius,

In the wake and aftermath of a horrendous event like Sandy Hook School, those who have normal notions of sympathy, empathy and compassion are moved, to the degree of our knowledge and relationship to the immediate situation. That is normal. Beyond, however, the normal or natural reaction to such heinous acts is our self-centered demand, made possible by instant communication to be co-participants in the full with grief, anger and outrage. What follows leverages this mass feeling into political and ideological agendas with the twin lies that something must be done and something can be done. We in the decaying West are addicted to this process, whether is is draconian measures to criminalize citizens who might wish to have guns or whether it is the willingness to murder in mass in the name of making the world safe for democracy.

avatar John Haas January 16, 2013 at 6:52 pm

“draconian measures to criminalize citizens who might wish to have guns”

It’s against the law to wish to have a gun?

avatar siberian husky January 16, 2013 at 9:51 pm

According to FBI crime report (from 2011) more people were killed in NY state by “feet and fists” -26 versus rifles 5 ( or 6). But Our Dear and Glorious Leader, Andrew Cuomo decided to ban assault rifles. I am eternally grateful for his wisdom , goodness and unabated love. He could order compulsory amputation campaign.

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