A boy cries at Newtown, Conn. A student at Reed Intermediate School reacts upon learning of a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.  (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

There are no words for this.

Today at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., a gunman opened fire, killing at least 20 children and 6 adults. 20 children, none older than 10.

There should be no words for this. 

But we know how this goes.

I hate that we know how this goes.

I hate that we can’t just say “Oh God,” and “Oh God, horrible, horrible.”

I hate that we have to say “Not again.”

I hate that we realize this. “Now it starts,” we say, “and then a few days or weeks or months from now after we have exhausted our grief and indignation, nothing will change.”

I hate that there is a familiar outline to all this, that we know what comes next. Next the papers will be plastered with pictures of the man who was behind this atrocity.

I hate that we will all pore over his life and his habits and his personal quirks. I hate that books will be written about him and that we will know his name. I don’t want to know his name. I don’t want him to draw the bizarre adulation that anyone draws whose name is often enough in the headlines. I want him to sink out of existence miserably forgotten.

I hate that we will use this tragedy to show how Right we were. That everyone will go on television insisting that he or she knows What Caused This, and that it was Video Games or Our Culture of Non-Empathy, or Atheists, or Our Loss of Faith (all actual suggestions I’ve already heard) or that there is one specific hobby-horse that he can pinpoint.

I hate that we have a template for tragedy that should have no template.

Already, the usual arguments have started. I hate that these are “usual” arguments. I hate that there is anything usual about this, that when we speak of unspeakable massacres we have to specify which one.

They are always different. This time was different. This time there were children, terrified, being told by police officers to close their eyes.

But there’s a ritual to it now.

The name of the place where this awful thing occurred becomes more than a name. It becomes a horrible shorthand for the day we were forced to stop believing that such a thing was impossible. For that first wrench in the gut. For the recriminations and the arguments.

The date in the calendar takes on a new anxiety. We have a new miserable anniversary to remember. More candles to light, more thoughts to send, more prayers to say. Our grief is consistent.

Why do we do this every time? Is this what we feel we have to do, our practiced answer to the unanswerable? There are no words — no good words, but we say them because these are the words we always say.

This will be the only thing we talk about for a very long time.

But then what?

I know what the script demands. But I hate that something too awful for words has a script.

No one law stops this. No one policy fixes this. Evil persists. Some crimes cannot be prevented. But that does not mean there is nothing we can do.

The next time we say “Not again,” I want it to be a promise.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".