Beverly Beckham

Getting used to living in darkness

A plane in front of the harvest moon.
Toby Melville/Reuters
A plane in front of the harvest moon.

It’s legitimate to be concerned about violence. People are shot and killed every day. A man goes into a CVS with a shotgun. A man commits mass murder at a military facility. Children are gunned down at schools, movie theaters, malls. Nowhere is safe.

This is the world we live in.

Two teenagers at the Market Basket were talking about the CVS robbery last Monday in Brockton. She was ringing up my groceries and he was bagging them, and they asked me if I’d heard that the robber had a shotgun.


They said it as a matter of fact. Not a surprise. A shrug. A sigh. Are you worried working here? I asked. No, they both said. The store has security.

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When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated nearly 50 years ago, I had a part-time job at Cummings at South Shore Plaza. My friend Elaine was a cashier at Stop and Shop in Braintree. There was no security in grocery stores or malls then, and no fear that someone would storm into our school and shoot us.

President Kennedy’s murder on that long ago Friday afternoon was an aberration. We could not wrap our heads around what had happened. Our teachers wept. Our parents sat pale and shaken in front of the TV. It seemed to us that the entire world was stunned and saddened by the death of this one man.

Sept. 11, 2001 stunned the world, too. Two thousand, nine hundred seventy-seven murdered. Horrible. Inconceivable.

And in our backyard last spring, the Marathon bombings.


Mother Jones published a chart of US mass shootings from 1982-2012, updating and including the five mass killings that have taken place since 2013, but not including the Boston Marathon deaths, because they were not by gunshot. (

The list is long and disturbing.

But Boston criminologist James Allan Fox wrote last week in USA Today that mass murder is really less frequent than we think. “Over the past 30 years, there has been an average of nearly 20 mass shootings a year in the US, each involving at least four victims killed, but with no upward or downward trajectory.”

Is this why the murder of 12 and the maiming of eight other human beings at Washington Navy Yard two weeks ago failed to make me stop in my tracks? Because there was no upward trajectory? Because this was just more of the same? Am I now used to people being gunned down anywhere, anytime?

The worst mass murder in US history didn’t take place in this century or in the past 30 years, I read online. That happened on May 18, 1927, when Andrew Kehoe killed 38 elementary school children and six adults, including his wife. He bludgeoned her, then set his farm on fire, then blew up the Bath Consolidated School in Bath Township, Mich.


There is no shortage of tragic stories online.

Maybe this is another reason the Navy Yard murders didn’t make me weep. Because there are people dying, being gassed, tortured, shot everywhere. And we read about it. And we watch it on the news. So much violence and death, that after a while you see but don’t feel.

And yet.

There was a full moon a week after these 12 people died, a huge, brilliant harvest moon. I’ve seen a full moon hundreds of times. And every time I am amazed that it astounds me.

Shouldn’t the death of 12 blameless people astound me, too?

Shouldn’t mass murder make a person sit up and take notice?

But it didn’t. Not this time. I wept when Kennedy died. And on Sept. 11. And after the murders in Oklahoma City and at Columbine and Sandy Hook and last April 15.

But something has happened. People are shot and killed every day. And it isn’t like a full moon that demands attention. It’s like a night without stars, a darkness we’re getting used to.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at