Now and then, thanks to the strange intimacy of technology, there
are times in modern American lives when our most momentous and
harrowing experiences have been shared.
In the days when radios were still furniture, we listened and
poured out into the streets on V-E Day and V-J Day. Comforted by
Walter Cronkite's voice, we mourned around the collective video
campfire when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Through the eyes of
correspondents in the desert, we watched during the first Persian
Gulf War as the Scuds and Patriot missiles streaked through the
The world is more fragmented now, the national watercooler a
relic of another, rapidly receding age. Now we can choose, sometimes
right down to the word, what information we receive. We can surround
ourselves with the like-minded, or we can dive into oceans of
opposition and try to hold our own. Where once we only listened and
watched, now, by the millions, we shout.
Sometimes it seems that we share so little. And yet, amid all of
this fragmentation, some things still stop us in our tracks, make us
think, make us talk, make us look to each other, make us feel as if,
somehow, we're one in shock and tragedy.
"There's no words," said Richard Wilford, the father of a second-
grader who survived. But, of course, there were. In the post-my-
status-update, have-my-say America where we now live, there are
A president, the father of two daughters, tried to summon them,
delivering a statement on behalf of the country and struggling not
to weep. The familiar, antiseptic words of police officials and the
stammerings of shaken parents played out on multiple cable networks.
And, of course, Americans talked among themselves, too: Tweet after
tweet and post after post millions of them by midafter-noon united
people in an inadvertently crowd-sourced attempt to make sense of
Why? Because, as President Barack Obama said Friday afternoon,
"these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are
our children." Words like "our" and "we" the "we" of that famous
phrase "We, the people," not incidentally can sometimes seem hard
to come by in America these days. Division, not unity, feels like
the dominant trait.
But one of the pieces of common ground we still seize no matter
how much we differ on the methods is the welfare of, and deep love
of, our children. And the abrupt loss of 20 of them seemed, for an
afternoon, to stop a nation cold.
Twenty children who will not have children, who in turn will not
have children, who in turn will not have children. Dozens of parents
who will not watch their child grow to adulthood, graduate, come
home for the holidays, walk down the aisle. …