I hesitated to write anything about Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut.
My college students year after year point immediately to the culture of violence in this country: the numbing music they listen to through isolating headphones, the video games that glorify the most kills, their own demonstrations of anger in personal interactions. The barbaric, ready availability of murderous weapons in this country is too well and too long known. But having spent over twenty-five years sharing philosophy with children, loving their faces and their wisdom, I make a humble attempt to honor child philosophers everywhere and always.
I am struck by the futility of quests to “make sense” of what happened. Reason is not up to that task. But three points of view, the first from nineteenth century Russia, another from a Newtown parent grieving for his daughter, and the last from a first grader in one of my classrooms, steady me somehow.
Ivan, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, questions a God that allows children to suffer. He is a believer, wanting desperately to understand the big picture, and states that “all the religions of the world are built on this longing.” Still, why create with the knowledge that innocence will be betrayed? That everything makes sense in the grand scheme—that eternal harmony exists and is heaven’s reward—to all this Ivan replies: “I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of one tortured child.” The “blood of a little victim,” even one child’s suffering, defeats the promise of eternity. Ivan “hastens to give back his entrance ticket.”
Speaking to the media in Newtown about his six-year-old daughter Emilie, proud father Robbie Parker pleaded that we not let the killings define them. To honor his daughter, he pledges to live his days with the compassion, sensitivity, and forgiveness that she showed in her joyful life. Only love can do Emilie justice. Her dad’s investment, in her life and in his own, continues.
Years ago, I sat with a group of first graders and the children steered our discussion naturally towards death, because a classmate’s dad had died recently. In my experience, they are eager to talk about death so that "it is not so scary." Toward the end of our conversation, a chat with no search for definitive answers, a beaming face and raised hand got my attention: “Maybe if we just live to the max, really full of life, we wouldn’t even have a word for ‘death’.” I hope.