By Ruth Conniff on December 17, 2012

The news on Friday about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was so horrific, the first question was simply how to take it in.

Waiting for the children to get home from school, I posed the question on Facebook: What do you say to a kindergartener, a third-grader, and a sixth-grader who may have heard that 20 elementary school children were gunned down, along with eight adults, in a school setting just like their own?

A mix of answers came back: some sensitive and empathetic, from other parents struggling with the same dilemma; some hard-nosed and political, from people ready to fight.

One wise bit of advice: Deal with it yourself, first. As adults, we have a responsibility to get a hold of ourselves and project a sense of steadiness and security for our children. Don't freak them out with your own feelings of helplessness. Let them ask their questions and take things in as much or as little as they can handle, at their own pace.

My little girls' father and I had the same impulse: to protect them from the news, to shut out the horrible reality of our gun-crazy society, and shelter their sense that they can be safe.

The reality, of course, is that they are not safe. And that is infuriating.

What kind of society sends kindergartners off to school knowing that they might be gunned down in class?

We deliberately limited our intake of information about the shooting over the weekend -- no TV, no radio, flipping the front page of the newspaper upside down.

The political arguments seemed particularly toxic.

Who wants to hear from the gun lobby and its enablers right now?

Except to answer this: What is your plan?

Not, What is your argument?

What is your plan?

How do you plan to ensure that elementary-school aged children are not gunned down?

What do you propose we do, as a society, to make sure that kids are safe, and shopping malls and movie theaters and elementary schools are not scenes of mass murder, again and again?

Perhaps it was to avoid answering that question that the NRA's apologists ducked the Sunday shows this week.

In the shocked silence surrounding the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the question hangs in the air: What can we, as adults, do to protect our children?

Continue to allow the sale of rifles at gun shows with no background check?

Keep allowing general access to assault weapons that can fire off 30 rounds at a time?

When the victims are little children, the argument that somehow arming more people so they can turn the next attack into a shoot-out sounds like a sick joke.

I'm sure we'll hear it, though. Along with a lot of other sick jokes that get us nowhere.

I don't want to hear all that.

I want to hear the plan.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Right to Work: As Goes Michigan, So Goes The Nation".

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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