That's the first place my mind went. To thoughts of my own kids and their elementary school.
With the finger-painted pictures -- strung up with clothespins in the hallway -- of thumbprint snowmen and reindeer. The fastest slide at recess. Kids at lunchtime, swinging their little legs off the cafeteria stools, all of them eating their dessert first.
The way they step down off the yellow bus, backpacks like camel humps. Using their fingers to count in math class.
One. Two. Three ... enough.
How does one count the dead bodies of schoolchildren without feeling a rage and anger that has no end? How does one count the bullets fired into a Connecticut elementary school Friday morning without wanting to shove them all back into the heart of the man who shot them?
Nothing in the world is more obscene than to walk into an elementary school with loaded handguns and begin firing. This is the Mayan apocalypse made small, when south becomes north and west becomes east and nothing makes sense in this mad, mad world.
While gun violence is, to paraphrase H. Rap Brown, as common as cherry pie, it has trickled down to areas that are culturally sacred and commonplace. Areas that symbolize, well, America. The best of us.
Churches. Temples. Malls. Universities. Movie theaters. And now kindergartens.
There is no good place left untouched.
It's like being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, a raping of innocence. Gun violence, dropped like an atom bomb, into the world of fat stubby pencils, Curious George and chocolate milk that runs out your nose when you laugh hard enough.
I want to call every elementary school teacher in this country and say thank you. Please keep doing what you are doing. Because the opposite of a gunman is a teacher, and the opposite of violence is kindergarten.
Remember to share.
Listen to others.
"I pledge to be kind to my friends and family,'' my kids and their classmates stand and pledge each morning.
"To be honest. Caring. And fair.''
When my children ask about the shootings, what will I tell them? What will you tell yours?
(My hatred for guns has never been greater. They are like poison to me. If the NRA took a vow of mourning and silence for 100 years it still would not be long enough.)
One summer night a few years ago, I was downtown with my young daughter, waiting to cross the street. We were headed to the carousel. Or Riverbend, maybe.
And I was angry about something. A bad dinner. A parking ticket. Lost car keys. Who knows.
I stood on that street corner, brooding, staring at the cracks in the sidewalk, thinking all those negative thoughts. Looking ... down.
My daughter, curled like a comma into her stroller, was by my side. And she was looking up.
"Dad,'' she said. "Look. Look at the birds.''
(Her little lisp made "birds" come out like "buwds.'')
And I looked up. There in the sky, which was painted pink and red by the setting sun, were hundreds of birds. Swooping. Circling.
It was utterly beautiful.
And it woke me up, out of my anger.
In this life of ours, we must learn to hold the evil and beauty together. Things -- awful, despicable things -- will send us brooding and mourning and despairing, casting our eyes down at the sidewalk cracks of life.
But we must also remember to look up. At the beautiful buwds. Because life is more than elementary school shootings. Life is beauty and hope and love and sweetness and daughters in strollers and fast slides at recess and snow days with good sledding.
The only way violence ever truly wins is if we forget to teach our children that.
If we forget -- even with bullet casings on the floor where children sit criss-cross-apple-sauce and listen to books about Paul Bunyan or Jemima Puddle Duck -- to look up.
A child taught me that.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...