Day Nineteen: Dreaming on the Abstract Concept of Humanity in the Wake of the Newtown Tragedy or: Considering Those Who Choose not to Disappear

by Tom Noonan

A sudden blankness in the day

as if there were no afternoon

& all my piddling joys retreated

to their own dopey mythic worlds.

– Amiri Baraka

I’m drifting in and out of sleep in a hotel room that sits above Ground Zero. It’s hard not to feel the presence.  It seems we have evil stripped of uniform, repackaged monthly, and served up to us through the media outlets that dominate glowing marquees in Times Square.   The swell of feeling is always the same, wiping everything from our horizon.  All of a sudden, we feel grounded indefinitely with zero visibility.  We try and struggle communally but regularly end up feeling alone in our humanity.

It’s a strange thing to hide in, our humanity, because it’s never as opaque as we believe.  It doesn’t protect us as much as we think, and it must be renewed frequently as we struggle to stay inside it.  We wear it, desperately, like a suit.  Today, we can feel its weight.

There’s something selfish in this, though, like making sure your oxygen flows, while the plane plummets, before checking on anyone else.  This is because it’s easier to disappear into our own humanity than it is to struggle with another’s inhumanity.  When presented with this choice, we’ll always choose the suit that fits comfortably.

In Newtown, it seems, no one is disappearing.  It’s just not an option.  They are instead consumed with the presence and humanity of those who died, inhabiting it while the world reels, somewhat selfishly but mostly generously, around them.

Candlelight vigils hide from news-van glare.

John Wayne Gacy hid his victims under the floorboards in his house.  When he got caught, the neighbors said they had always noticed the smell but never thought to push the issue.  He killed 33 people before being found out, fully emerged from his humanity.

But we have floorboards too.  We can only disappear into our humanity so far and for so long.  All day there have been two questions that bothered me: If we have in fact disappeared into our satisfied humanity, then how will we ever be able to prevent inhuman action?  And if we’re effectively hiding from the type of reform and dialogue that will allow for this prevention, then can we call this abstract concept within which we find comfort “humanity”?

Today, with 27 dead in Newtown and this country’s floorboards still firmly held in place, I don’t feel particularly human.