The innocents

Let this painful week belong not to the killer, but to the victims and their common cause: Education of the young.

Connecticut has shown us cruelty incarnate. In coming days and weeks, we'll all learn where public attention, public opinion, focuses.

Regrettably, we suspect it will focus less on the innocents than on their killer.

By the tenets of amateur psychology, the explanation of his deranged behavior ought to be recoverable from the sorry details of his life:

.When and why did this particular man unravel?

.What urge convinced him to submit, what injustice did he think he would avenge?

.How, pray tell, could a 20-year-old convince himself not only to slaughter his mother, but to destroy so many fledgling lives?

We would love to report that knowing these answers would help craft better laws, or somehow prevent another massacre. But as the recurrence of these senseless cases attests, that quest is a triumph of hope over experience: As a society we have tried many times to parlay lessons of these tragedies into public policies that would stop the next madman. Hasn't worked. What we've learned time and again is that there's folly in trying to explain the inexplicable.

That doesn't, though, leave America helpless.

What all of us can do right now is focus on the stories of these lives cut short. We can be inspired by the simplicity of the children, and the service of the educators who died trying to protect them. We can rededicate ourselves to the cause that united both groups - education of the young - and trust that education someday may bring the peace that legislation and public fury have not. We say this not in surrender to the murderers, but with faith that there must be a way to pre-empt their inhumanities. Education and its progeny, empathy and uplift, may succeed where all else has failed.

No words are sufficient to adequately grieve the loss of Newtown's children and adults. They truly are innocents - separated only by geography and circumstance from other innocents systematically slain on the streets of Chicago and other communities across the land.

The more we dwell on the innocents, on promising lives extinguished, the more we cheat the killers. The Connecticut slayer's demons, whatever the explanation, are no excuse: Many people suffer terrible temptations yet overcome them. Many people are angry at themselves, their deity and nearly everyone in between, yet never would resolve their own sense of victimhood by making others their victims.

This killer, like many before him, takes to his grave the demented logic of his painstaking plot. He knew what all of us know in this open society: No matter the extent of safety precautions, no matter the monitoring of building entrances, schools make soft targets. Their culture wants to welcome, not to distrust. Hurt a school and you hurt us all.

It's a leap of faith, this daily journey of the innocents to schools. The partings, child from parent, evoke an awful question: Is this our last goodbye?

Usually that's a question pushed to the back of our minds. Not so in the next few days. But as we cherish what we have, we also can look further afield: Other planned school assaults have been prevented because someone - a classmate, a parent, a teacher - took notice of an acquaintance's mind spinning out of control and reported it.

As this painful week unfolds, we can let it belong not to the killer, but to victims we mourn, and admire, and keep alive in our thoughts.

We can hug the people we love a little tighter.

And those of us with children can steel ourselves to our next leap of faith.