A relative of my father’s died in the 1930’s in an ice expedition to the North Pole. The transport boat that was carrying the explorers from ship to shore capsized. My father’s cousin, a strong swimmer, accustomed to the cold North Atlantic Ocean, rescued three of his travel companions who could not swim. Returning with the fourth survivor, he was just shy of reaching shore when exhaustion and the cold overcame him. He drowned. The person he ferried survived. I have replayed this scenario with unexpected frequency. Is that because I am a storyteller, or perhaps, a small part of him lives on in me?
The power of our imagination to create the details of scenes that unfold in our absence is nearly infinite. This propensity is nearly sufficient to drive a sane person to madness. In circumstances of unimaginable loss and horror, we seem fully able to conjure pictures to match our own ideas of terror. We replay images of our own creation in every waking moment, and find that they return, unbidden, even in our sleep. When we are rewarded with minute factual details of any sort, we weave them into our stories of suffering. The smallest hint of fact allows us to build our tale, plugging the leaky foundation with this, even the thinnest shred of evidence.
Such thoughts weigh on my mind tonight in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. It is painful beyond measure to think of the families and the victims at the hands of a young man who went to the school so filled with rage. With as much discipline as I can muster, I turn away from the details. I turned off the television, unplugged the radio and let the power run down on my laptop. I do not try to conjure the images. Instead, I work hard to look for beams of light that signify hope in the world.