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Out of Control

December 15, 2012

Today, I was going to write about how I like to feel in control of my life and my environment. I was going to explain to you how it’s something I crave. I was going to tell you that this is the reason I greatly dislike surprises: when I was thrown a surprise party for my 21st birthday, I spent the first three hours physically shaking on the outside and fuming on the inside.

I was going to tell you how this week, in one of my classes, we talked about the difference between “when” and “if” coming down to certainty and uncertainty, but that we, if we are in good health and feel optimistic, will feel comfortable saying “when I turn 30, I want to travel to Australia” but we prefer “if” in  a sentence like “if I turn 80, I will start smoking again.” We feel comfortable even though there is no guarantee any of us will turn 30. Technically, semantically, it’s a matter of “if,” not “when.” Statistically, of course, things may look different, but that doesn’t take away the fact that none of us are, in the end, in control of our lives.

That doesn’t keep us from making plans. It shouldn’t. Unless we look ahead, plan ahead, try to make things the best they can be, for ourselves and those around us, there’s really no point to life. We need to plan and we need, up to a point, to feel like we are in control of our lives.

I’d planned to write all of this – and in a much more eloquent way, too – and then I came home from a lovely dinner with my mother, turned on my computer, and learned that 20 children and 6 adults were shot in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. As I write this, we don’t know who was killed. We don’t know why. And really, there will never be a why. We may, in the coming days and weeks, learn that the shooter had mental health issues (seems to me you’d have to, if you are able to shoot 20 children between the age of 5 and 10; seems to me you have to be severely deranged), that he had problems, or maybe that he seemed like such a quiet young man. We will talk about the need for gun control. Some people may, like in the aftermath of the Aurora shooting, bring up the importance of accessible and affordable mental health care. But in the end, there will never be an explanation. 20 children and 6 adults were murdered, executed in their school, their workplace, and nothing will ever sufficiently explain that fact.

Those people, too, had plans. They had hopes and dreams. Some of them probably wanted to be firemen, astronauts, movie stars, teachers, scientists. Others may have planned to spend their lives helping these aspiring firemen, astronauts, movie stars, teachers, and scientists achieve their dreams. Every day they spent in that school, every single one of them learned something new: to share, to write, to teach, to be compassionate, to work through conflict, to care, to subtract and to add, to love.

If only they’d had the amount of control over their lives and the lives of those who died by their side that we like to pretend we do – that we have to pretend we do. Sadly, they didn’t. Someone decided to use the control he had over his own life in such a destructive, basically evil way that they never stood a chance.

So what can we control? Really, only our own actions in the present moment. Right now, you can hug your children a little tighter. Right now, you can send a letter to your Congressman or Congresswoman about gun control. Right now, you can start thinking of ways we can make mental health care more accessible and less stigmatized. Right now, we can keep going to school, keep learning, keep teaching, keep loving.We keep planning, living, striving for a better world. Because what else is there?

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