No Time to Think: The Informational Age and Mourning

 … how to re-imagine the space

with laughter and talking and learning

in the days before

is where I am finding myself in trouble this morning

as images invade my mind,

and all I can think is,

my youngest son is the same age

as those children.

— A poem I wrote yesterday in our NWP writing space, the iAnthology

Like many of you, I heard about the Sandy Hook shooting in the midst of the school day. We refrained from mentioning it our sixth grade students, both out of uncertainty of the situation and appropriateness of who should be framing such news. But we heard about it from a young substitute teacher who got a text message from a student at the high school.

My first thought: my 12 and 14 year sons are at their schools, and they probably already know about it, and I am not there to help them process it.

Which was true.

The news apparently spread like wildfire through their middle and high schools, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and word of mouth and the constant flow of news in the information age.  I may be an advocate for technology, and I may talk a lot here and in other places about the power of digital media, but there are times — like this — when I wish there was a huge switch we could yank on to slow things down and give us — individuals, families, schools — time to mourn thoughtfully. Just to stop the deluge for a bit.

Listening to the radio news on my ride to get my oldest son from basketball practice after school on Friday, I was in tears. I could not shake the vision of the terror of the situation, and the sadness that must be consuming the families and the community. I picked up my older son, and then my 12-year-old son, and we talked a bit about what happened, about the madness of the situation. Not much. Just enough for them to know I was there, and they were safe, or at least, as safe as they could be. And that we could talk, if they needed.

“But don’t talk about it with your brother,” I warned.

My eight year old son was at home, blissfully unaware of the news. He’s far from plugged in, and yet, my wife and I knew that come Monday (or maybe sooner), the news of Sandy Hook would filter to him, and he would learn about it, and what he would hear would be filtered through the minds of other 8 year olds. In other words, it would be news from sources that could not be trusted for accuracy.

We hid the newspaper yesterday, burying the headlines in our bin of paper.  Out of sight. But still, he needed to know.

I struggled yesterday with how to broach it with him. I asked around on Twitter. I read some articles that gave advice, thought long and hard, and then, as he and I were sitting on the living room floor making Lego ships during the afternoon, I gently explained that he would probably hear people talking about a terrible tragedy, that some children in a school were dead, and I wanted him to know about it. I gave very general information, nothing specific, and emphasized our need to say prayers and send good thoughts for the families, and keep those kids in our hearts.

He nodded, and said, “Can I ask a question?”


“Did it involve guns?”

Here was the topic what I was hoping to avoid, but I both acknowledged that guns were involved, and then I deftly dodged/weaved around the specifics. I brought our discussion to a close with another reminder about prayer and thoughts for the world undone by tragedy. He looked at me closely, seriously, and asked if our church pastor had heard the news. I said, he probably has, and that he would likely ask the congregation to pray for Sandy Hook families.

My son nodded, thoughtfully, and got back to making his Lego ship. We worked in silence on our Legos, both of us deep in thought. It was the best I could do.

Peace (in the mourning),


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  1. It sounds like you handled it quite well. I’m not sure if my kids have heard the news or not. Probably not. Their grandmother picked them up and took them out of town after school Friday. You give good reasons for broaching the subject tonight before they get to school 10 and 6. The ten-year-old is a little too obsessed with guns and violence (though beginning to figure out why maybe he shouldn’t be) and the six year old dances through her day. I’m really not sure how to explain any of it to her! Thanks for your thoughts. These considerations are so much more real to me right now than gun control. That can come in the weeks that follow. I am still not really believing in my gut that this is real.

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