Breaking the Rule: No Fiction Today

The fiction writers at Wordsmith Studio are running a seasonal writing challenge during the month of December. There’s a prompt each week, and writers respond with a short-short story. This week’s prompt is a photo collage (photos courtesy of Wordsmith photographers; thanks, friends). Here it is:

Season Collage
Season Collage/Wordsmith Studio Photographers

Lovely images, aren’t they?

Fun. Sweet. Cozy. Nostalgic. Beautiful.

But other adjectives stick in my head this morning. Unspeakable. Horrific. Tragic. Unbelievable.

None of them are sufficient. There are no words for what happened to twenty young children in Newtown, Connecticut yesterday. I keep thinking about the parents who had already shopped for Santa or who were engaged with their children in other holiday traditions. I think about the mom or dad who dropped a child off at school yesterday morning. An ordinary morning. Maybe homework had gone undone the night before. Maybe they were running late. Maybe there was a last-minute hug before the child got out of the car. Or maybe there wasn’t.

Breaking the challenge rule

So I’m about to break the Wordsmith challenge rule. In light of the tragedy, I can’t write fiction today. I can’t write about smiling snowmen or bright lights or children mesmerized by a Christmas tree. If I had to choose one image, I would write about the one at the lower right, that ghostly image of a child’s backyard play set lost in a sea of blue-white, snowy light. The emptiness of it. The cold.

This morning, all those children are missing from their parents’, their siblings’, their grandparents’, their friends’ lives. That kind of emptiness is beyond my imagination. I’ve lost people I loved–a marriage gone to hell, my parents and grandparents, other relatives, friends–but I have been blessed to see my children grow to adulthood and now my grandchildren, too, three of them in their teens. I simply can’t imagine waking up every day with the kind of hole in a life that the death of a child creates.

I witnessed my grandmother’s grief when my mother, her only child, died. My grandmother lived nine years after that, to a stunning old age–almost 98–and she never got over that loss. My mother was 65, and I felt her life had been cut short.

But these little lives, in such a senseless act of violence?

Two things 

I have made it a point to stay away from politics on this blog, but I have to say two things today:

We must do something to keep automatic assault weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them. What ordinary citizen needs a gun that fires off multiple rounds in seconds? I don’t believe this is what the founding fathers had in mind when they proposed “the right to bear arms.”

We must do something about how we care for the mentally ill in our society. The only way I can conceive of someone committing such a horrific act is to believe that person was seriously ill. Who else could act without conscience, concoct such a plan, and carry it out? We are failing this segment of our population. We throw drugs at them and expect the drugs to work the cure. Granted, we don’t know much about this “shooter” yet.  Surely there must have been signs. Maybe those around him were doing all they could to help him, but somebody missed something.

They say a tragedy like this brings out the best in us as a community, as a nation. I want to believe that’s true, but unless we change things, this event too will be forgotten by all except those most closely affected. We’ll move on, and nothing will be different. And there will be a next time.

That’s all I have to say this morning. I still want to write that story, but not today.

That empty play set is too haunting. Heartbreaking.

Please keep those parents and the whole community of Newtown in your hearts. Hold your own children close. And tell me here how you cope with a tragedy of this scope. What are you telling your children? What are you telling yourself? 

5 thoughts on “Breaking the Rule: No Fiction Today

  1. I must admit that one of the first thoughts which ran thru my head was that maniacs pick Christmas as the time to strike. Having a clinically psychotic cousin who has set fire to two houses I dread to think what the consequences could have been if Canadians had the same freedom to carry firearms. It’s such a hard thing, isn’t it? I know my aunt gave up on my cousin and just tried to pacify her and stay out of her vitriol as much as possible. Did this assassin’s parents have similar struggles? Would gun controls, mental health efforts, mandatory institutionalisation of the mentally unstable help? Who draws and where is the line drawn? Who knows. So, so sad and heart breaking.

    1. Your cousin’s situation sheds some light. There’s a limit to what a parent/caretaker can do. In *our* system, it seems a person has to commit a violent act before anything can be done. How flawed is that?

      1. Terribly, terribly flawed Gerry. It seems to me that there are the mentally unstable fighting for their rights to be left alone, the innocent fighting for their rights to protect themselves even by deadly means, the concerned fighting for more money for institutions and health organisations and many other interested parties who all pull on one thread of an unraveling rug which has so many holes in it that individual maniacs easily slip right thru.

  2. Gerry, I absolutely agree with you. We do NOT need to have automatic weapons on the street. They should NOT be sold anywhere – not in shops, not at gun stores. I understand that soldiers are required to carry them, and I know that those soldiers are responsible for those weapons. I taught military abroad, and they carried those weapons with them everywhere, and were responsible for them. But civilians, no, not in the community at large.

    1. True. Guns aren’t the total picture, though. I keep thinking about the “shooter” at Virginia Tech whose parents had tried to get help for him. Our system for dealing with those who are out of step (or “odd,” as this young man has been described) is deeply flawed.

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