In my elementary school days during the 1960’s, we had regular disaster drills. The alarm would sound and we were instructed to go out into the hallway and crouch on our knees with our heads under the concrete coat racks that were built solidly into the wall. I had no idea what the purpose of these drills was - as far as I was concerned, it could have been nothing more than a physical exercise. I was only six or seven, and if my teacher tried to explain that the exercise was a feeble attempt to protect us against the fallout of a nuclear attack by the Russians -well, none of that made any impact on me.
Which is just as well, because if I had understood that some other country might drop a bomb big enough to destroy everything and everyone I knew and loved, I would have been scared shitless and scarred for life.
Here we are, 50 years later in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, and our children are still undergoing safety drills in school - now it's to try and prepare them for the possibility of an armed intruder storming into the school and shooting them down in their tracks.
Once again this heinous crime has occurred in a school - two days ago, at a community college in Oregon. Once again we are we are posting placards on Facebook. We are lighting candles, and sending “hopes and prayers” to families of the dead and wounded.
And yet, it seems the uproar is a little less pronounced, the shouts of anger fewer in number. It is almost as if there is a sense of resignation about it. Oh, another one. Too bad. So sad.
No, not just sad. Despicable. Unbelievable. Totally Unacceptable in a country that purports to be a democracy, a country whose claim to fame has always been liberty and justice. Where is the liberty when children cannot go to school without fear of random, senseless violence? Where is the justice when people with mental illness and criminal records can purchase assault weapons nearly as easily as they can purchase a package of cigarettes?
We live in a nation that is eating itself up from the inside. There is a culture of hatred and intolerance and despair, fueled by disconnection and hopelessness, flamed by violence and a romance with guns that has escalated far beyond anything I ever would have imagined, and all of it exploited via television and social media. It’s as if we have returned to the days of the Wild Wild West, days of disregard for law and order, when it was dog eat dog and every man for himself. We shun those who are “different,” label compassion and empathy as weakness, and let our family structures be fractured with divorce and dislocation.
It’s not right. It’s not normal. And it WILL destroy this nation.
I have to believe the majority of people know how wrong this all is, know there is something so terribly wrong with this picture. Yet we have been sitting back, perhaps stunned into silence, while the violence continues and escalates.
Where do we even begin to right all the wrongs woven into this terrible patchwork of anger and violence? I speak as a child of the 1960’s when I say we must protest in every possible way we can protest. At the very least, we must stand and be counted, must spread the word that we do not accept these violent outbursts in our halls of learning. We must lend our support in money or time to organizations that work to combat gun violence. We must demand that our legislators enact reasonable gun reform, and if they don’t, we must send them packing. We must advocate for mental health issues, and let our compassion for those who are truly mentally ill outweigh our anger against their actions.
I have a three year old grandson who lives in Dallas, Texas, a state where over 800,000 people have concealed weapons permits (the second highest number in the nation). In two years Connor will attend the beautiful elementary school that’s practically in his own backyard, located in an up-and-coming suburb that’s been lauded for the excellence of its public schools. How ironic is it that we worry so much about high academic standards and all the latest equipment when the little people inside aren’t even safe from random acts of violence?
Earlier this week I wrote about the winds of change ushering in the season of autumn. Today, I am clamoring for change to sweep this country, a change in the hearts and minds of its people, a way for us to value tolerance, compassion, and acceptance. I clamor for a change in the ways we teach our children, so they learn that being the best at tests, winning the most at sports, and getting the most toys isn’t what leads to happiness and fulfillment. I clamor for change in the way we spend our time, that it be with our families, sharing activities and daily life in a meaningful way, learning from books and music and art and times with friends, not always isolated in our separate corners with computers and phones, not zoned out with violent video games.
Back in the 1960’s when I was hiding under the concrete coat rack in my suburban elementary school, I didn’t really understand what was at stake, didn’t know one person’s evil could cost us everything.
Now I know how much we stand to lose. It’s time we stand up and change it.