Finding Compassion

The night of the unspeakable tragedies in Newtown, I babysat for two elementary-school aged kids. When I was putting the little girl to bed, she stopped me before I left her room and asked me to leave the lights on, to ward away the monsters she suspected inhabited the darkness. At this request my chest pulled tight, and, after assuring her that she was safe for the night, I tucked her in and shut her door and thanked God that all this 7-year- old child had to fear was the dark of her bedroom without a night- light, and that she need never know what a .223 caliber assault rifle sounds like when it goes off.

I watched the news incessantly last weekend, not out of a voyeuristic impulse or even compassion for those affected, though I do feel an aching sympathy for everyone in Newtown, but no, I took in every new report in a selfish need for some sort of explanation.


What possible motive could drive someone to kill dozens of people, to take defenseless chil- dren away from their parents, to devastate a community?

But with each new grue- some detail, I realized the futility of attempting to find reason in such a senseless act of horror. There is no back-story that could reconcile this massacre, no evidence that could emerge to put in perspective his cruelty. Twenty children should be writing their holiday wish lists, and six adults should have come home to their families, and regardless of why the shooter did what he did, his callousness will be no less in- comprehensible.

Although it would probably be easier if we were able to ex- plain what took place at Sandy Hook, to process, to comprehend, it is the feeling of incredulity that is important to hold onto. Our utter disbelief over such cruelty is proof that although some may trample over the line that human decency begs us not to cross, most still feel it. It is the strongest reaffirmation of our own humanity.

It’s not hard to get caught up in the awfulness that surrounds this incident, and the horrors will surely keep coming as the case unfolds. Even the public’s reaction has been, at times, despicable. There was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s proclamation that because of the separation of church and state we shouldn’t be surprised “that schools would become a place of carnage” and the plans of the Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for protesting at military funerals, to picket Sandy Hook Elementary school in order to “sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.”

But even the extremity and shock value of cruelty cannot abolish the tendency of so many of us towards compassion.

It is compassion that has been shown around the world for the victims of this tragedy, something that was easy to witness right here in Westport. The compassion was there in the stunned silence of entire classrooms that Friday afternoon, as students and teachers watched the terrible news as it came in. It was there in the Facebook statuses and tweets that overwhelmed our newsfeeds, solemn expressions of sympathy for and solidarity with the victims. It was there in our worry for our teachers, families and friends who live in Newtown. It was there in the overflowing crowd at the town hall vigil Sunday evening. It was there in every piece of green or white clothing we wore on Monday to show our support. And it was there in all of us, as we struggled to accept what had happened. Amid the shooter’s demonstration of the worst in people, from the Westport community and many others came the best.

Anne Frank once wrote, of the tragedies she had endured, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

And, despite everything, I believe it too.