No Words (A Response to the Connecticut School Shooting)

I just saw this tragic story on the news and this quote from a parent struck me:

There’s no words that I could come up with that would even come close to describing the sheer terror of hearing that your son is in a place… where there’s been violence.

Photo credit: Adrees Latif, Reuters
Photo credit: Adrees Latif, Reuters

President Obama attempted to offer some words of his own, describing the school shooting in Connecticut:

They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, wedding, kids of their own… Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children.

20 kids dead. Several teachers who had dedicated their lives to educating these little ones, to giving them hope for a future — also dead. All of that taken away.

As a writer, I want to say something. But as a parent, I cannot.

I believe language has power and impact, that it can be a salve to our wounds. But not today. Today, I have no words.

If I did, they might be “awful” or “unimaginable” — even “appalling.” But none of those seems to capture the intensity, the pain, of what has transpired today. None seems appropriate.

So today I am reminded that sometimes no words are in order.

When tragedy strikes, we want to have the right words to say, because something really ought to be said. We are uncomfortable with the silence and fear our lack of words will communicate indifference.

But we forget that sometimes silence can be louder than our strongest voice.

At times like this, the Jewish custom of Shiva seems to offer the most comfort. Instead of saying something, perhaps the most appropriate thing to do is to simply sit with the suffering. To not say but show we are with those in mourning.

Maybe it’s a prayer offered or a candle lit, even a hand on the knee or a person’s presence in a room. At our times of greatest despair, we don’t need words of consolation or an explanation of what “God’s plan” is in all of this mess. We just don’t want to feel alone.

Tragedy has a devious way of isolating those in suffering, making them feel they have to bear this burden alone.

The best way we can love those who have lost so much is to show them that they are not on their own. That we are, indeed, with them. I don’t know how we do that virtually for strangers, from thousands of miles away, but it’s worth trying to figure out.

After all, it’s one thing to say, “Tomorrow’s another day.” It’s quite another to sit through the darkness of night and wait for daybreak together. 

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.
—Henri Nouwen

37 thoughts on “No Words (A Response to the Connecticut School Shooting)

  1. But even here. saying you have no words…you offer words.  There are no words enough, as I wrote about today.  But the words that we try to say…offer comfort to others who really don’t have words.  I’ve found a lot of comfort today in reading people’s words…even the ones that say there are no words.  No words great enough.  But words are what we have.  

  2. Thank you Jeff.  I have carefully scanned Twitter as to who is saying something that is worth stating.  Especially times like these should not be used to divide, but unite.  So people should not bring politics into this.  As you stated, what can we do for people so “far away” “besides pray”(quotations as I do not want to make it sound simple) for them and use it as an opportunity to show others we love them? 

    K, bye

  3. “…. For we do not know what to pray for as
    we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too
    deep for words.” Rom. 8:26.

    Too deep for words. Just groans, anger, racking sobs.

  4. I agree. Silence seems appropriate today b/c anything I could write would not do it justice. And I am personally fed up with pictures on FB that seem to trivialize this thing. People deal in their own ways, I suppose.  Social media feels odd and trivial  today. 

  5. Jeff, though, as you said, no words could mean much, your words are soothing and full of wisdom. Nothing could take the pain and fear of all who lived such tragedy  and also for those like  us who are silent observers from far away. Yet, a reminder that we should not let anger rise at such moments for those at fault. Rather love and prayers for both the chilldren and the assailant as well. The more love we send out to those that hurt and take Life in their on hands, the beter the world will  eventually be!

  6. There is no simple way parents can explain this tragedy to their children. I agree when Dr. Drew’s panel brought out that simply being present and  and reassuring them, explaining to the best of their understanding of what have transpired and not to expose them further by leaving the news channel for them to watch, instead, letting them watch their favorite cartoons instead.  This is traumatizing enough for adults who still cannot wrap their heads around this let alone children.

  7. Thank you Jeff for your sensitivity and insight. It is true; words help us work our way through the conscious world but words cannot speak to the heart.

  8. I felt the same, yesterday.  I have a seven-year-old daughter.  I can’t even begin to imagine.  I woke up this morning feeling a little different.  We have to get angry this time.  Something must change.  I’ve never owned guns, but I’ve always supported those who do.  Something must change.

  9.  I had no words to describe the loss of my sister’s child a few years ago. Then I discovered The Mud Baby, an ancient story about loss, faith, healing and going on … and found how story and poetry heals. I wrote a book based on The Mud Baby.You will find an 8-minute audio version of this healing story on my blog. https://marlenewinberg.comIf it moves you, as it has done for so many people, pass it on. It heals

  10. Yesterday, on a late lunch break, and stunned by the murder of those precious
    kids, I left work to pick up my daughter at school. When I turned the
    car on, the radio came on, too, playing a Christmas carol. I shut it
    off. The sunlight was too bright, and the lawn decorations along the
    route, garish. I passed two auto accidents, with ambulances present,
    along the way. Everything felt hollow. People looked like automatons.

    At times like these, people write stuff about “hug your children
    tight….tell them you love them.” I pulled in the school lot, parked,
    and, as I started to walk toward the door to pick up Sophie, she came
    out. But I didn’t rush to her and hug her as so many said to do. She
    didn’t need my drama. I gave her hand a squeeze and asked her about her
    day. She had just finished her afterschool art class and was happy —
    happy for art, happy it was Friday, happy about the school dance that
    night, happy that it’s almost Christmas. She’s just a little girl of 13
    — my little girl. She needs to be happy as long as she can.

    This is not how life is supposed to be. And Sophia should have plenty of
    time to lament over the evils of this world when she’s older. And when
    she does, I pray she trusts in the hope that one day God “will wipe
    away every tear from [her] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither
    shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former
    things have passed away.” Rev. 21:4.

  11. As a mother of three I am horrified at this act of terror.  As a rational human being I am sickened by the talk of ‘god’ during this time.  Where was God when these beautiful beings were being slaughtered?  How can pray do anything but make us feel better about ourselves?  We need to work on how our society views mental illness.  Not all the mentally ill would do this but one must be mentally ill to do it.  So horrible and so sad.

  12. Tragedies like that have happened too many times. Almost the same day, there was a crazy man cut about 22 kids at a elementary school in China. It’s not sadness to US. It’s what to everyone of us. 

  13. I read your comments on the recent school shooting of mere babies.  I agree, there are no words that can help.  It’s just too horrible for words.  And I know of no way to offer virtual solace, a hand on the knee as  you describe – a touch that simply says, I’m here.  But you said:
     “After all, it’s one thing to say, ‘Tomorrow’s another day.’  It’s quite another to sit through the darkness of night and wait for daybreak together.” I cried when I read that comment.  It is more heartfelt than anything else I’ve seen or heard lately.  Thank you for finding the words, after all.  I can’t be there with these families, but I can still pray.  I’ll pray for them and for each to have someone close to sit with them through the darkness of night.

  14. I have been numb over the event, but it wasn’t until reading this post that I actually cried over it, because you put into words the strange mix of emotions I was feelings. I want to SAY something, but what? What can I say? THIS. Thank you, for THIS. For those of us who cannot find the words, but wish we could, & for those who need to hear them most.

  15. In our silence, may we be love…and *this* speaks strongly to me, thank you for such eloquence: “After all, it’s one thing to say, “Tomorrow’s another day.” It’s quite another to sit through the darkness of night and wait for daybreak together.”

  16.  besides the 20 innocent children and the 6 adults, i keep thinking of the parents of the shooter – i feel for the parents. (please don’t crucify me)

  17. Wow, I just found this. I could not even begin to take a stab at saying something on this topic. You did well.

    Personally, I had a teacher meeting this morning for my 9 year old daughter, and when I saw the flag out front at half mast, I bawled.

    It’s a broken world we live in.

    The only words I have to fall back on are the two things that are traditionally considered appropriate to say at that Shiva, if the mourner seems like they want to talk.

    They are “May you be comforted,” which I love because it hits at the truth: I know I’ve got NOTHING for you, aside from my presence. Only G-d can comfort and help parents after such a stunning and unexpected, searing loss. They are beyond the pale.

    And “May their memory be a blessing.” Our task is to keep and treasure all the good moments, and not let them be erased by the end.

    Their lives are complete, and their mission on earth, though we never expected that. The question is, how will we respond to the message of their shortened lives?

  18. This is great, I had been trying to think of something I could do from across the country, and your post has given me some great ideas!   Maybe create a care package of things they can do or use during those long nights when they can’t sleep.  Maybe a sad movie to grieve to, a silly movie to escape in, a journal, a list of blog recommendations, a book or two, pictures drawn by your children, scripture references or inspirational quotes, a memory card for a camera (or a gift certificate for one to Best Buy or something since there are all sorts of cameras out there) to ensure they remember to take photos of their life and loved ones, a personal note of condolence, etc.

  19. Jeff…I lead a psychoeducational group for teens. In our last meeting, first one, then another, then another, openly shared their shock, confusion, fear, and heartache about what happened in Newtown, Connecticut. As a therapist, a communicator, and a writer, I found myself wanting to try to assuage their pain with my words. But as thoughts of what I could say tumbled around in my brain, I realized as you did that there are no words. I just needed to be “with” them in those moments of sharing. I think that however we respond, we need to make sure we are not just trying to make ourselves feel better. Just “being with” the families and residents of Newtown, however we do that, keeps that very human response in check.

  20. Love your blog and I understand your emotion. 

    But I am amazed at the number of people in social media who had to go out of their way to publish something about how they had no words for the tragedy. If people have no words doesn’t that mean not saying anything. Having no words means just that. 

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