Elon Musk’s trolling skills are without equal, but I didn’t think he’d ever make me cry. And yet, there I was not all that long ago, driving the roads of my Whatcom County, Washington, having a hard time of it over his response to a controversy du jour.
The relatively new Twitter owner elicited this reaction not through trolling but by quoting the Bible and telling a part of his own story.
Musk had bought the social media company and promised to nudge its content moderation policies in a direction that is more favorable to openness and free expression. Multiple accounts that were locked or banned had been freed, including the Babylon Bee and former President Donald Trump.
And so Sam Harris, of all people, put the question to Musk: What about InfoWars’ Alex Jones? I don’t think he, or anyone, was quite prepared for Musk’s answer.
“Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” he wrote, borrowing Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Matthew.
Then Musk explained what he’d meant, and the explanation really got me.
“My firstborn child died in my arms,” he wrote. “I felt his last heartbeat. I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame.”
The controversy in brief is that 20 children and six staffers of Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed by a lone gunman in Newton, Connecticut, in December 2012. Almost a decade later, a jury ordered Jones to pay a bankruptingly high judgment of about a billion dollars to family members of those students for repeatedly suggesting that the shooting was staged to promote gun-control policies. A Connecticut judge later piled another half billion on top of that.
The thing that Musk wrote that so disturbed me is something I did not do: hold the child.
Several years ago, my wife had a stillborn daughter who we nicknamed Cecilia “Little” Lott. The stillbirth was not unexpected, but it was disappointing. Cecelia suffered from a condition that doctors call “not compatible with life”: exencephaly.
Do not Google that condition; you’ll lose your lunch. Babies who suffer from exencephaly don’t have a skullcap, or don’t have much of one. They can survive for a while in the womb, and sometimes briefly into the post-womb world, but that’s it.
We had hoped to at least meet our daughter and say goodbye, but she died in utero. That still left her little corpse to deliver, which my wife labored mightily to do. The nurses bundled up the body and let people hold her who wanted to.
I touched her cheek and held her hand but otherwise didn’t hold Cecelia. I reasoned: What would be the point? She wasn’t there anymore.
That was true as far as it went, but grief is very far beyond logic. What happened after served as a sort of torment and punishment that no amount of reasoning will ever convince me I didn’t have coming.
On the day of the funeral, Cecilia’s body was in a small plastic container functioning as a casket at the graveside. It sat on a table. The man from the funeral home accidentally bumped it and knocked it over.
As you can imagine, my wife saw this happen and lost all composure. She fell down on all fours wailing and was beyond my normal efforts to comfort her.
So, I finally did what fathers ought, one last time. I took the little casket in my arms, planted one foot in the shallow grave, and deposited the body myself. Then I stumbled up out of there, but in one sense, no I didn’t.
This was years ago, in 2017. We now have two beautiful, energetic little children, a boy and a girl, who both delight us and deprive us of sleep. You might think time would scar the wound over of the one we lost.
But here’s a truth that you can root in the Bible or evolution or common experience: We are not meant to outlive our children. If we have any empathy at all, when they hurt, we hurt. And when they die, a piece of us goes down to the grave with them.