Last weekend, I was sitting in a parking lot at Castleton Square Mall, waiting for my wife to exchange a gift.
A father and two children—a daughter who appeared to be about 6 years old and a son who looked about 4—crossed in front of my parked car.
The dad was holding the little girl’s hand. The little girl was holding her younger brother’s hand.
As they neared the door to Macy’s, the little girl started to skip. Her dad and brother started running to keep pace. Their linked arms bobbed up and down.
Father, daughter and son giggled with delight.
When I was 6 years old—about the same age as the happy-go-lucky girl—our principal, Mrs. Pilster, walked into Mrs. Crossfield’s first-grade class. It was a month before Christmas. I looked up to see what was wrong.
Mrs. Pilster said President Kennedy had been killed. She told us to put our heads on our desks and be silent for a few minutes. She told us we’d be going home early that day.
Some of my classmates cried. Others didn’t know what to say or do.
During the days and weeks that followed, I watched the president’s funeral on our black-and-white TV. When Life and Look magazines arrived the next week, I looked over and over at the pictures of Caroline and John-John. They were kids my age. I felt sad that they’d lost their dad.
In the years that followed, people said children my age lost their innocence that day.
Nowadays, innocence is lost not when some faraway public figure is shot and killed, but when 6-year-old children, their teachers and principals are shot and killed.
When dads and their skip-to-my-loo daughters are at risk while shopping for Christmas presents at the mall.
When worshippers are at risk while attending services.
When friends and family are at risk while watching a movie.
When workers are at risk while doing their jobs.
Each time a mass shooting occurs, we shake our heads in sadness.
We struggle to find words, but shed plenty of tears.
The president flies in to console the victims’ families.
The gun-control lobby says there are too many guns.
Gun advocates say there aren’t enough guns.
The mental health community says there’s not enough treatment and prevention.
Public officials say there’s not enough money for mental health.
Nearly everyone says we need to have a national conversation: About gun control. About mental health. About violence. About the loss of faith and values.
But talk is cheap.
Time after time, we get ourselves in a lather; do nothing more than talk about the need to talk; then rinse and repeat when the next mass killing occurs.
Now, we have the victims of Newtown, Conn.—Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Ana Marquez-Greene, 6; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeleine Hsu, 6; Catherine Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; Allison Wyatt, 6; Rachel Davino, 29; Dawn Hochsprung, 47; Nancy Lanza, 52; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; and Victoria Soto, 27—to remind us why conversations are not enough.
On the day after the Connecticut school shooting, a newspaper columnist asked how a kind and benevolent God could allow such a thing.
Perhaps because God isn’t a puppeteer or micromanager, but one who sees the divinity in each of us to work our free will with one another and our planet. What if God’s role is merely to say, “Here’s your gift of life; let’s see what you can make of it”?
Judging by wars, prejudice, assassination, pollution, rape, nuclear arms, chemical weapons, genocide, homicide, hunger, homelessness and the mass murder of schoolchildren, we’re not faring so well.
This week, Christians celebrate the birth of one we call Emmanuel, a savior, which is Christ the Lord.
Sitting in church on Christmas Eve year after year, I’ve heard ministers speak of this holiday as “God, with us.” I’ve heard them explain how a “little child shall lead us.”
If God makes each child in His own image, if God is with us through the gift of every child, if every little child has the potential to lead us—as the next Einstein or Mother Teresa or Mandela or Maggie Thatcher or Buddha or Muhammad or Jesus—then our failure to have more than a conversation about guns and violence and mental health is nothing short of sacrilege.
As Christmas passes, it’s time to do more than talk. For the sake of little girls holding hands with their dads and moms, their brothers and sisters, it’s time to recognize that the divinity in each of us far outweighs some twisted “right” to the weapons that can kill any of us.•
Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.