Our family’s favorite Christmas movie is really a Halloween movie: The Nightmare before Christmas.
In that movie, Santa Claus - who at first is mistaken as a sinister creature – is called “Sandy Claws.”
This time of year we all should be talking about Sandy Claws. Instead, all eyes and hearts are on Sandy Hook Elementary School and a real nightmare before Christmas.
When news of the horrific shootings last week began trickling in, my first thought was of my wife. Insulated in the seemingly safe cocoon of an elementary school, not much unlike the one in Connecticut, she hadn’t heard about the incident. In fact, when she came to the phone, she was enjoying what elementary schools are supposed to be like: laughing because she’d just listened to some students sing a song they’d created about a field trip. At the time, I didn’t know the Sandy Hook principal also was a victim, along with five other adults and 20 children.
Next I thought of Tim Tyler, who recently returned from Afghanistan where he was a civilian contract employee.
As people around the country were trying to wrap their heads around the fact that someone had murdered kindergartners, I remembered the awful story Tyler had told me the day before.
Where he worked in Afghanistan, there was a little marketplace in which a few children would hang around selling gum or little bracelets. The workers had become accustomed to seeing them each day, and sometimes would even hold their hands as they’d cross the market.
Tyler had been to Afghanistan three times before. This time, just a couple of weeks after his arrival, a suicide bomber walked into the market, into the midst of those children, and detonated - killing all of them.
I asked Tyler if the bombing was intended to scare other children away from the market, to send them a message that hanging around Americans would be fatal. “There were no children left,” he said, with an incredulously horrified look. “He killed them all.”
Understandably, that event clearly haunts him, as the Sandy Hook nightmare will weigh on all of us – especially those closest to it. Even at a distance, t’ll burden us as we look at our own children and schools and our own public areas and wonder who among us could shoot or blow up 6-year-olds, and then argue about what we could do to keep it from happening.
As Tyler found out from heavily fortified Afghanistan, and as the people of Sandy Hook found out about their blissfully happy elementary school, it’s impossibly difficult to prevent carnage from someone who is willing to kill the most innocent among us. After all, the greatest protection for the young, from human beings all the way down to the lowliest creatures in the animal world, has always been our natural protectiveness of them. It’s even more difficult to protect them when the killer is willing to die in the process.
Have all the arguments you want about mental illness and guns, the topics of choice for knee-jerk Sandy Hook solutions from Monday-morning quarterbacks and armchair experts. We simply don’t have an easy formula for preventing such murders.
That is everyone’s very real nightmare.