When I was a child, one of the highlights of the pre-holiday season was the arrival of the Sears Christmas Catalog. The cover, usually a family enjoying the aftermath of gift-opening frenzy or a pair of alert Nordic-looking children on the watch for Santa Claus, was itself entrancing. But the contents, page after page of toys and velvet dresses, prompted a consumerist rush and glut of possibility. Look at everything I could have! Dolls, play houses, my own girl-sized vanity! My siblings and I would pore over the pages, picking what we liked best and eying the packages under the tree in hopes of spotting a match.
This sort of reminiscence usually propels me into a self-indulgent glow of reconstructed memories, featuring more what might-have-been than what was. This year, however, neither visions of sugar plums nor the gradual appearance of holiday lighting in the neighborhood summons the magic. I am just too sad. We all know about the 20 children who won't be able to build more memories, and the families for whom Christmas will forever be a different kind of anniversary.
Nostalgia is a luxury not everyone can afford. It's a reward for surviving, or at least reinventing, the past. But this is isn't quite what I'm experiencing. The Portuguese have a word for it, saudade. It's like nostalgia, but it also encompasses emptiness and longing for something that should be there, but is missing. It's a feeling of loss for something we may never had had, but yearn for all the same.
Most of us have lived through -- or at least lived past -- incidents of rage and violence, but when children are the victims we remember again that our world is sick. Worse than that, we know that it was bound to happen. Americans--not even 5% of the world's population-- own half the guns. Sooner or later they will fall into the hands of people who'll use them to blaze a trail of sorrow.
We can say what we like about too many guns, lack of regulation, poor funding for mental health. The fact is, however, that fear and violence are in the air we breathe in this country. Our games, our recreational media, our fictions abound with mayhem.
I know nice people who own guns and use them to hunt and target-shoot. I know others who want to protect their property. I also know if they God appeared to them in a glowing cloud and asked if they would give up their guns in exchange for the life of even one of these children, they'd do it in a heartbeat. But that's what it would take -- a divine intervention.
People ask why God allows such horrendous episodes as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary. Maybe it's not divine oversight or callousness. Maybe it's a message, a warning as to the people of the Old Testament: Forsake this idol you have made of the Second Amendment.