Anticipating the Unthinkable
By Adam Porter
This one is a bit personal…
As the father of three sons, two of them very young, since I first learned of the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, I have not been “right.” At any given moment, the images, reports and themes are not far from my mind. I find it easy to get lost in borrowed grief…and then slip into a nightmare.
I think about those parents of twins who had 3 children at the school. Two survived. One of the twins, Noah, was killed. How do you reconcile something like that—the joy of seeing two of your children again with that empty place at the table? What was it like for them as they waited, hugging two of their children, for the news that Noah would not be coming home?
The journalist in me wants to explore the facts, find the story, discover the motives and the reasons and the reactions. The dad in me wavers between wanting to hug my boys and never let go and finding the guy who did this and…best not say. Of course, there can be no vengeance in this case, so all that is left is the healthier option. My boys were out of town, visiting their grandparents, last Friday. I could not hug them then. I picked them up on Saturday…and hugged them tightly.
That is helping, as I believe similar reactions are helping individuals across our country cope. The nation itself, however, is not faring so well.
America has fallen again onto the merry-go-round. Fear. Rage. Anger. Hurt. Fear again. Anguish. Disbelief. The knee jerk reaction to all of these things is a desire to control. To make new laws, to create new systems. To attempt to categorize and organize chaos. To do whatever it takes to STOP THIS FROM EVER HAPPENING AGAIN. It is an honest and understandable response. It is also impossible.
When I was little, my family lived on an island. Living on or near the water requires a few immutable rules. As any sailor or fisherman can tell you, the ocean is an unforgiving mistress. For a small child, the tide can be just as perilous. We were given rules, guidelines, restrictions and conditions. Every year, millions of other children receive these same limitations from their own parents. Yet, every day, according to the CDC, 10 Americans die from non-boat-related drowning in the United States. That’s 3,650 each year. Two of these ten are children under the age of 14. Many of these people do nothing wrong. On two occasions, the sea has nearly taken my life. Yet still I swim.
When my family moved off the island we bought a horse ranch in rural Hillsborough County. Again, my brothers and I were given a set of nonnegotiable rules with regard to the horses. What behavior to watch for. Where to stand. How to act. How to move. Transgress any of these rules and the result could be a potentially fatal skull fracture. That’s simple arithmetic when a horse’s hoof is the size of your face. And yet, one could do everything right and, for no apparent reason and without any warning, the horse may decide to buck, kick or bite anyway. This was a risk each of us took every time we entered a 10×10 stall with a 1,400-pound animal or climbed on its back. Most of us carry scars.
My brother-in-law trains polo horses. When my eldest boy was invited to visit them one summer to help with the training, I did not hesitate to agree. I offered him the same instruction I was given. Instruction that may have saved my life, but had not protected me from broken bones and concussions.
My point? Precautions are necessary, but they can never eliminate danger or chance or pain.
We cannot, as a society, control evil any more than we can control the tide or a skiddish quarter horse. We are not prescient, and we are not omnipotent. No human system can protect us from random acts of evil any more than any system can bring about utopia. Both good and evil are the result of human choices. Some choose to do good. Some choose to do evil. Some choose to do nothing. The last of these choices most often results in evil. Fortunately, it is also the choice most easily changed.
But this practical reality has not stopped the pundits from demanding provision for prevention. To those calling for a perfect world, I ask:
Where can one buy a scale on which to measure the deeds, laws or regulations that will, with certainty, bring about the greater good, and by what means can that measure be calibrated?
Is it the human ego or our fear reflex that leads us to believe we can utterly eliminate chaos, perversion and selfishness? I can’t answer that question, any more than I could be certain that a horse would never kick me—or my son— in the chops.
But I do know one thing. This is not a systematic issue. It is a human one. Like most of our “societal ills,” it begins and ends with a series of individual decisions made by individual people, folks who have no crystal ball and cannot imagine a set of consequences that could lead to unspeakable tragedies such as these. They are unthinkable, by definition. Hindsight may make all of us wiser, but it should not make any of us increasingly judgmental.
Laws do not dissuade the lawless. They are rarely an impediment to evil of any kind. Only humans with love and goodwill in their hearts can light a candle in that darkness. The candle cannot eliminate the dark, but it can keep it at bay.
Do not mistake this as a call for anarchy. Instead, it is an appeal to those who rule to do so motivated by what Lincoln called the better angels of their nature.
Rage can never beget reason. Nor can fear. Therefore we must legislate from neither. We must make laws regardless of extreme emotion, but instead with a steadfast commitment to doing what is good and what is right. Not an expressly passionless process, but an entirely sober one.
Only perfect love can cast out fear. Perfect law, even if such a thing could exist, cannot dispel fear or danger or risk or hate or even transparent evil. It can only categorize it, examine it and find it guilty. But the law is not the only resource available to man. We also have our will to act.
So, where will you stand? Into which cause will you invest your heart and mind and soul? Will you stand with those who use evil as a political ploy, or will you stand with those intent on doing good—in deed and in regulation—despite the dangers?
Only you can decide. But, please, decide. There are many out there committed to doing some good, and we need your help.