Living With Horror

We don’t watch television in the Kowalski household, and haven’t for several years. This was a decision we made when our first child was born in 2003. We didn’t want our kids exposed to commercials, and we wanted them to spend more time actively playing than sitting in passive zombification. This is not to say we are opposed to video entertainment. We have a DVD player, the kids watch things on Netflix, and there are a few series my wife and I enjoy (“Downton Abbey” for her, “Homeland” for me.) When something happens as horrific as the Newtown massacre, we read about it on the internet, but we aren’t bombarded with constant images and commentary reminding us over and over of just how horrible it is. Our sense of outrage and sadness is not lessened by our removal from the ceaseless torrent. But our state of mind is vastly improved by the fact that the sights and sounds we are surrounded by are of our kids playing, our cats meowing, the dog whining for the ball, the wind in the trees outside, jazz playing on the radio. Quiet is not a luxury. It’s a choice.

For me, being a creative type has always meant the need to create a quiet space around myself. This is not the same as sticking my head in the sand. I am aware of what happens in the world. In fact, I would venture to say that I’m better informed than someone who simply watches television, especially Fox News. I read the news from several different sites every day, and I read commentary from people who are far more knowledgeable and experienced than I, who offer well-informed, carefully-thought-out opinions and explanations that aren’t limited to a five-second sound bite or cut off by the shrill interruptions of the guest in the opposite chair.

Like yours, my heart breaks for those who lost loved ones in Newtown, especially the parents of the little ones. I can’t offer any new insight into the debates on gun control and mental illness.

What I can offer is a few words of experience to those of you who are seeking to process this tragedy and what it means for our society, and who wonder how to react to such evil. Instinctively, we wish there was some way we could help make things better. We can’t do anything to ease the pain the parents of Newtown right now, but we can do something, in our own small way, to help save the world. We have to understand first that it is a long-term solution. The only way we can save the world is to save ourselves. Not in a selfish, every-man-for-himself kind of way, but in a how-can-I-make-myself-better kind of way.

I cannot help anyone if I’m in a state of constant outrage. I am not making the world a better place if my heart rate is twenty beats per minute above normal. I am not making my children safer by worrying about them. I am not sharing in the pain of the parents of Newtown any more just because I’m being constantly reminded of it on CNN. I am not participating in the shared sadness of our nation just because I see the same images replayed on the screen all day long. None of these things deepen my experience. Instead, they detract from it. They prevent me from sitting in contemplation of what has happened, from processing it, from allowing my feelings to be fully expressed, from deciding what I am going to do to help save the world.

And here’s what I’m going to do to help save the world. I’m going to vote my conscience on gun control. I’m going to write to elected officials to urge them to react sanely and wisely, rather than implementing knee-jerk measures like the elementary-school equivalent of the TSA. I will say to the parents of Newtown that I am thinking about you all the time these days, and so are the rest of us. There are no words. I’m so, so sorry for what has happened to you.

Most of all, though, and most importantly, I’m going to be present in my daily life. This means not having the television blaring in the background, whether the kids are home or not. It means making sure the ideas and images in my head are mine, and not planted there by the producers and sponsors of 24-hour news channels. It means refusing to live in fear. It means hugging my kids when they come home from school and listening to them tell stories about their day. It means saving the world in the only way I know how: by being the best husband and father that I can be.

What are you going to do?