Sunday, December 16, 2012

One Response to the Tragedy in Newtown: Bad poetry

Now that people have had some time to process their grief and outrage at the violent gunning down of 20 children and 8 adults in Newtown, Connecticut, it's become time to write poetry that attempts to give the entire affair a happy ending. Above is a Facebook meme that's been circulating.

This is from the message board from The View:
twas’ 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38
when 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven’s gate.
their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air.
they could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.
they were filled with such joy, they didn’t know what to say.
they remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.
“where are we?” asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.
“this is heaven.” declared a small boy. “we’re spending Christmas at God’s house.”
when what to their wondering eyes did appear,
but Jesus, their savior, the children gathered near.
He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same.
then He opened His arms and He called them by name.
and in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring
those children all flew into the arms of their King
and as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace,
one small girl turned and looked at Jesus’ face.
and as if He could read all the questions she had
He gently whispered to her, “I’ll take care of mom and dad.”
then He looked down on earth, the world far below
He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe
then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand,
“Let My power and presence re-enter this land!”
“may this country be delivered from the hands of fools”
“I’m taking back my nation. I’m taking back my schools!”
then He and the children stood up without a sound.
“come now my children, let me show you around.”
excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran.
all displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can.
and i heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,
“in the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT.”
I am struck by the emptiness of these attempts at consolation. I am reminded of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl. In that story, Andersen addresses poverty, a problem we still have today, as a poor young girl selling matches freezes to death on the streets even as rich people who could help her blithely pass her by. The kicker is that when the girl's body is found the next morning, she has a smile on her face because she has, through her suffering, entered the kingdom of God and joined her grandmother in Heaven.

Andersen was attempting two things in his story, and I think his themes were at cross purposes. First, he was indicting a wealthy society that let poor children starve, freeze and die. At the same time, he was saying that despite the suffering some of us endure during our lives, there is an eternal reward afterwards. The problem is that given the eternal reward, what wrong did the passers by commit in ignoring the girl? The rich passers by have allowed the suffering girl to escape this terrible world and go onto a better one. Andersen's call for social justice is muted by the idea of divine post mortem justice.

The same trouble affects the poems I've reproduced above. Given that the murdered children have all entered paradise, there's no need to try and make the world a better place in the wake of the tragedy. Whatever injustices and evils exist in the world are as nothing compared to the divine love of Jesus. The mythology expressed in the poems makes our responsibility to each other meaningless, because in the end we can kill everyone and let God sort us out.

I don't believe in God. I don't believe in easy answers and fairy tales. I don't believe in rainbow slides or the embrace of a loving Jesus. I believe that people, on Earth right now, have a responsibility to each other to make the world a better place. I believe in social justice. And I believe we need to change the world now.


  1. Thank you for pointing this out so eloquently.

    1. Thank you, Kelly Anne. Writing things like this is very difficult, because the right tone needs to be set or it can come off as flippant or judgmental. It is good to know that I hit the right note.

  2. I see your reasoning and do agree, we have a responsibility to each other to make the world a better place.
    I just have to point out So many times these horrible events have come to pass and we continue on with minimal to no change. People have to believe in a positive, they seek out comfort from tragedies such as this in many different ways, the most common being religion. We've let our families, friends, neighbors, and ourselves down. This is the world we live in, it is our responsibility - we need a change, and not just tightening gun laws.

  3. I agree Sara. It's not just about tightening gun laws. It's about creating a just society where anyone can access the mental and physical health care they need when they need it. It's about lessening the fear that makes people feel the need to won guns in the first place. It's about showing the world that you don't need guns to be a powerful, confident person. I worry about drawing false comfort when there are real things to be done. We can have real change and make a real difference, but we need to get off our knees and work for it.