I believe it is possible to experience loss and sustain an emotional wound that cuts so deep it hits you in the very depths of your soul. That is how I felt when watching the horrors unfold Friday in Newtown, Conn.
The photos from Sandy Hook Elementary School were gripping. Photographers captured images of children fleeing to safety after the second deadliest school shooting in our nation's history. May we pray we never see the pictures of the carnage inside.
By the time the killing spree ended, 20 children had perished at the hands of 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza, who later committed suicide. Seven other victims also were murdered, including six adult employees at the school. The first victim, his mother, Nancy Lanza, was killed prior to the attack at the school in the home she and Adam shared.
As a mother, I struggled to contain the tears that silently slid down my cheeks as I settled in to watch the news Friday evening. The TV played in my living room upstairs in our home. In stark contrast, the joyous sounds of my boys echoed from the family room in the basement, where they were playing with their friends.
I felt humbled and also guilty. I was able to embrace my children at a time when I knew other parents' hearts must have felt as though they had been ripped from their chests. I bowed my head in prayer: first for the families of all those involved and second in thanksgiving for the health and safety of my own children.
At a loss and wanting to do something, I sat at my home computer and wrote the editorial that was published in Saturday's edition of The Inter-Mountain. I realize there wasn't much I could have done to help the situation in Newtown, but I wanted to empathize with the emotions our readers - nay our entire nation - experienced as we watched in stunned, captivated silence.
Even President Barack Obama, who has been criticized for his sometimes detached, emotionless demeanor, struggled to address the nation in his speech. His voice broke during his delivery, as the roles of parent and president battled for control. In the end, he was both sides of the same man - showing, through the wiping of tears, that our commander in chief also is human.
It is hard not to be felled at the knees by such extreme acts of violence, especially when they are committed against such young children. Those killed in Newtown all were in the first grade. They ranged in age from 6 to 7 and had their whole lives before them.
Newly released information indicates some of the children were shot as many as 11 times each. This scenario literally was and is every parent's worst nightmare. Even more chilling, it played out in almost real time as our nation watched in horror.
For me, no movie plot, no terrorist plan could ever hurt more than the real-life slaughter of our children.
Truth often can be more brutal than fiction. It slices to the core of one's being because the hurt is real versus perceived.
Right now, it is time for this country to get very real. We as voters need to provide politicians with a truth of our own.
Something must be done to address this culture of violence in America, where our citizens are being attacked from within. That something must include an open, honest assessment of all the factors that contribute to an attack like the one in Newtown.
It's not just about gun control. It's not just about access to quality mental health services for those who are desperately in need. It's not just about preparedness and safety training for our nation's schools. It's all those things combined with so much more.
The one thing this clearly isn't, shouldn't be and cannot become is a partisan battle. Politicians must put down their weapons that long have been drawn from across party lines to take up a new fight - together. They must rage in unison to ensure the peace we promise our children when we tuck them in bed at night really does exist.
We have soldiers watching our country's borders to protect us from outside threats. Our legislators need to rise to the challenge to watch us from within. There's no one on our homefront's front lines, and our casualty count will continue to grow until our leaders can unite to address this most urgent threat.
Until that occurs, how can any of us sleep soundly or securely, or keep these real-life nightmares at bay?
Heather Goodwin Henline is publisher and general manager of The Inter-Mountain. She may be reached at email@example.com.