It was not the lunch break that I intended to have. I work in a secure and controlled office. We have to swipe our i.d. badge to enter the room, the use of mobile devices from Kindles to Cell Phones are prohibited and the internet is locked down on all our computers. No, I do not deal with national security issues nor do I perform any specialized scientific experiments. It’s just that we deal with the human resources files for employees of a certain state and that state has been stung enough by the theft of its employees identities in the past that it now takes the protection of those assets very seriously. The result is that we work in something akin to a bubble and our only knowledge of the outside world is via our intranet connection which only informs us of deadlines for enrolling in benefits and which manager from our corporate headquarters across the pond just got promoted. This does make our lunch periods as a time when we get reconnected to the world outside our cubicles. I had just sat down to a lovely plate of pasta salad and chicken salad sandwich at a small neighborhood cafe, when the outside world caught up with me. I was not prepared to deal with what the had been happening since 9:40 a.m. Nobody was.
It has been nearly 10 hours since that horrific event in Newtown, Connecticut and I am no more prepared to deal with it now than I was the moment the event came into my consciousness. The past day has been an uncontrollable torrent of thoughts, emotions and opinions and every new bit of information that I am exposed to seems only to confuse and baffle me more. I feel the need to some how make some sense of what I am thinking, not out of some sense of egotism that I have some bit of wisdom that I can bestow upon the world but rather I feel the need to try to wrap my brain around this event for the sole protection of my own sanity. We are all like those ancient cave dwellers who, when faced with a hostile world that contained danger in every shadow and death waiting at their threshold, put pigment to cave well in an attempt to explain how they survived. I stand before my empty space of wall with by finger dipped in color and find myself ill equipped to communicate. After all, how do you depict an unfathomable sense of loss.
Newtown, Connecticut lies 1,012 miles from where I now sit at my dining room table and yet it feels like it is right next door. Is it just me or does, when one of these horrible events take place, the distance from your location to the scene of the tragedy seem to in no way insulate you from the feeling that it is in your back yard? I have never been to Connecticut but as the events of the day were relayed to me by various news outlets, I saw in my minds eye every overturned desk and the look of terror in every child’s face. Slowly, I began to realize that the school I was seeing was not the Sandy Hook Elementary of Newtown, CT but rather I was seeing the elementary school that my children once attended and the campuses that they now inhabit. The look of terror was not of some faceless stranger but rather it belonged to the kids who are part of my life. I think that is why the distance is of no consolation because every parent, every teacher, every older brother and every interested adult knows that despite their insistence in our kids safety when they leave us, we are always on the precipice of danger from some unfeeling and unstoppable mad man. I say this not to strike fear in my own heart although that emotion is one that I have been constantly dealing with since this event took place. Instead, it makes me feel that we all have to find a way to deal with this, to try to understand “the why” and “the how” and to vow for the” never again”.
There is a certain fraternity among those of us who have been blessed to have children. We realize that it is not by our own merits that we were able to be called mom and dad. There are far more honorable people than myself that, although desperate to have kids of their own, are prevented from having kids through the conspiracies of biology. This feeling among parents that to a small extent we have won a sort of procreation lottery leads us to spend every waking hour trying to keep our kids safe and feeling loved. We skip sleep, give up our last dollar, invite their friends including the ones we don’t like to parties and we change our whole schedules to accommodate their every need in the hope that they will one day understand how much they mean to us. I personally am as committed to my kids as I can humanly be and know that most parents are as well and it is this mutual appreciation of our role in our kids and their friends’ lives that gives us something in common with all other parents. It also makes the loss that other parents experience to be so hard to take. Whether it was due to a tragic auto accident or the slipping away after a long illness, there is no way that a parent can hear of the passing of a child and not feel that gut wrenching, paralyzing fear that someday I may have to feel the same. This feeling was visited twenty-fold upon us yesterday. I heard some parents of very small children hypothesize that younger parents would hurt more at hearing of the Newtown event because their kids are the same age as the victims and they hold a common feeling of the loss of the possible future these kids could have had. I feel that the sense of loss is just as profound among those of us who have kids that have passed the age of the victims for we know in concrete terms the joy of every day since that age that our kids have given us. I will suggest that all parents feel loss today and we all have deepest sympathies for the nightmare that those parents a thousand miles away are experiencing. For all the events that those parents will never get to share again, I feel saddest about one that seems so trivial, picking up the kids from school.
Every parent has had to perform this feat at least once in their lives. The traffic is hellacious, disorganized and generally it involves sitting in a steaming car for what seems like an eternity waiting for some school official to walkie talkie your kid’s release to your car. When the kids finally finishes saying good bye to every classmate in the school district and opens your car door, it happens. In that moment between the whump of a backpack hitting the back seat and your first question about how their day was, you feel it. In that moment of silence, you know on a subconscious level that they are safe. Those last 8 hours since they left your presence has passed without harm, you relax just a little bit in knowing that once again you can be with them and talk to them and tell them that you love them. The greatest tragedy about that Friday morning at Sandy Hook School is that for twenty sets of parents, that moment is gone forever.
As hard as dealing with my own thoughts about this tragedy have been, the act of trying to understand why it happened and how to make sure this is the last time we have to mourn innocent victims of a senseless crime is nearly impossible. Clearly, we need to address the culture we live in. The pandemic of mental illness and its striking at the heart of our youth has to be addressed. We need to remove the stigma of talking about mental illness like it is some family secret and deal with the reality of what it is, a diagnosable, treatable medical condition that deserves the same attention as any other medical condition. Where are the colored ribbons? Where are the charity walks? They don’t exist because we continue to believe that it is weakness to talk about how we feel and we spend everyday saying things like ,” I am fine” and “Oh he’s o.k.He just has the blues today”. The common thread among too many of these shooters is that they have had conditions that were not diagnosed and/or undertreated. I know we can’t bring back those who have suffered at the hands of the mentally ill but perhaps if we can start as a society dealing with mental illness in a mature and scientific way then who knows how many lives we can save?
I have to admit that I not exactly feeling calm and pensive this morning. No, the emotions that we all have been feeling lead us to probably think most logically when dealing with this any other tragedy. This is definitely true of myself because the emotion I feel more than sadness is that of anger. This has pissed me off to no end. I am mad at the shooter for taking young lives. I am mad at my politicians who claim that we can’t talk about the root causes of these issues because the timing is inopportune. Most of all I am angry at the American culture that bemoans this tragedy but refuses to honestly address it and in just a few days will add it to the laundry list of historical events that we should have learned a lesson from but didn’t. This is not about guns.
This is about boys and guns. I am a hypocrite. I have spent my life teaching my son that violence is not the answer, the lives of others really matter and to turn the other cheek. I have also allowed him to play video games that feature firearms and the use of those to kill digital representations of human beings. He has a Nerf arsenal of guns and other spongy weapons. I even got him a b.b. gun last Christmas. Now, my son is a peace loving boy. He would never hurt anyone and even when faced with a bully at school, took the intimidation as opposed to striking out in anger. But I am only fooling myself if I don’t realize that the prevalence of guns as entertainment in his life doesn’t cause him at least some sense of moral confusion. Now I have to do my job as a parent and find a way to temper those confusions with guidance. I am not going to make some empty promise of him never playing anything violent again because I do believe some of it serves as an outlet for the aggression that otherwise would be internalized to himself or unleashed on others. What I am going to do is explain to him the difference between the fantasy and reality of violence. I am going to stay in the room with him when he plays and if I determine that it has become too much, I am going to turn it off. Basically I am going to do the job that parents are supposed to do. Most of all I am going to talk to him about how he should treat other people and the value of all life.
The common thread that runs through every mass shooting is the same, some male and a gun. The preponderance of young males with firearms has reached epidemic proportions and its not just a mass shooting at a school that should make us realize it. Just in my medium sized city this week we have had at least one gun incident every day and whether this is a shooting over a drug deal gone bad or at the hands of a madman in CT, the fact is that this has got to stop. We have got to stop wringing our hands at the mall shooting at Clackamas Town center and then forget about the gun violence that goes on every other day in the shadows. How many women must be killed at the hands of their abusive husbands? How many kids must be shot playing with their parents guns? How many teenagers must be shot at gas stations because their music was too loud before we start to honestly address the problem? This is about more than guns. Its about guns in American. Switzerland trails only the U.S. in gun ownership but has a gun crime rate that is so low that its is statistically untraceable. So it has to be about more than guns but that doesn’t mean its about less.
This is not about the Second Amendment. It is also not about the government kicking in doors and confiscating hunting rifles. We need to get to a stage in our politics where we can actually talk about guns in our society in a way that is measured and reasonable. Why must it be all or nothing? Can’t we address the reality of the world we live in, even if it doesn’t jive with whatever catchy little slogan our political allies like to hide behind? I am sorry but guns do kill people. There are bad people in the world and they are going to use whatever means is at their disposal to harm other human beings. We should require that they have to extend a little more effort than walking up to the sporting goods counter at Wal-mart. I understand there is a role for guns in society but we have to realize that the proliferation of guns has less to do with constitutional rights and more to do with the profitability of gun companies. Glock’s profit margins are 68% per firearm, not a bad margin. I am not saying that gun companies should be run out of town on a rail, but that we have to be honest about some of the factors that encourage gun ownership by many who frankly are not the most responsible. We also have to eliminate both sides of the extremes. A gunless culture would not guarantee a world without violence and neither would a society where every citizen is packing heat. We have to find some reasonable middle ground between Nazi Germany’s example and that of Dodge City.
The ultimate solution would be a society that values all human life and would pass those values along to its children. Since we seem to be far from accomplishing that perhaps we should limit, not outlaw, some of the weapons that make the taking of that life so efficient. This is the point where usually the N.R.A point of view will be expressed that it is only the armed general population that keeps our country from being run by tyrants. I find it odd that an organization that puts such stock in the Second Amendment simultaneously puts such little belief in the remainder of our Constitution and its provisions that are in place to prevent such tyranny. There are two problems with this view of guns as the only way to keep the oligarchs from marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. The first is that even if this argument had merit it is vacated by the fact that the majority of its advocates seem to be more obsessed with whether two homosexuals can get married and the religion of our current president than they do with making our nation a better place. The second is just basic military theory. Do you really think that a military that possesses nuclear submarines and F-22 fighters is really deterred by a collection of hunting rifles? The true fact is that true, reasonable and consistently applied gun laws may not cure all ills but it may just help save a few lives and isn’t that the ultimate goal?
Well, it appears my space on the cave wall is nearly full and although the thoughts I express are only my own, they have allowed me to start to get a handle on the events of a Friday I am not soon to forget. My hope is for healing to those affected by this event…. and those affected are all of us.