Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown, Our Town

As I sit down to write this, I realize that there are no words powerful enough to describe the magnitude of grief that the families of those who lost loved ones in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday or those of us watching the continual news coverage are feeling.  I have listened throughout the weekend as journalists have tried to find appropriate words as they speak to family and friends who are preparing to bury their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, granddaughters, grandsons, wives and mothers in the midst of this holiday season.  Simply stated, there just are no words.  Nothing the interviewing reporters could have said would have been better, more appropriate, more meaningful.  In a circumstance like this, when the wounds are still wide open,  words fall short, way short.

We would all like to think that nothing like this could happen in our town.  That is where we are all wearing blinders.  A tragedy such as Newtown can happen anywhere, in any town, in any school, on any day, at any time.  Why?  Because people do things like this and people are everywhere.  People who are sad, lonely, depressed, mentally ill, and who have access, both legally and illegally, to firearms are everywhere.  Yes, these people live in your town, and mine.  We desperately want to believe that we are immune to such a tragedy.  We also want to believe that in the highly unlikely chance that something awful did befall our little corner of the world, we'd be prepared.  To some extent, we probably would be, but no level of preparedness would prevent the initial attack.

A friend mine has had the following as his signature tag to his email, "The average response time of a 911 call is 12 minutes;  the average response time of a .357 caliber bullet is 1,400 ft/sec."  Every time I read it, I have a physical reaction.  It hurts.  it makes me feel ill.  it makes me angry.  For the person who wrote this, I suspect it provides a comfortable level of safety and security.  For me, it engenders fear and sadness.  The reality of the statement though was illustrated in Newtown.  By the time teachers were aware of the dangerous situation in their school, twenty children had lost their lives at the hand of a gunman.  Once aware of the circumstances, many other teachers were able to use their emergency training and instincts to protect and comfort the children in their classrooms and ultimately lead them to safety.  For that, we all give thanks.  But still, there are twenty six people, those who had no opportunity to prepare, who won't be here for Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays, graduation, weddings, or to raise their own families.

We all want answers.  We all want to do whatever we can to keep this from happening again in any city or town, but especially we want to keep it from happening to our children, to our families, in our schools, in our town.  Can we really do this?  The perfectionist in me wants to say with confidence that we can do something.  The realist in me knows that ultimately, we can't.  People who are intent on doing something like this are going to find a way to do it and there is no way that it can be stopped.  All we can do is hope and pray that if such an incident occurs in a school in our town, that those who are called on to react and respond will do so in a way that results in the least amount of devastation.  

This whole issue of preparedness hits close to home.  As a professor on a college campus, I encounter students almost every day who are distressed about grades or family or work or all of the above.  I try to be aware of how they are coping.  But, would I recognize their breaking point?  More importantly, would I recognize it in time to intervene before they resorted to an act of desperation?

My husband is a middle school teacher.  We all know that middle school emotions and hormones magnify the significance of issues in their lives.  An argument with a parent, a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend, being cut from the football team or cheerleading squad, fear of a failing grade,  to an adult may seem inconsequential, but often feel permanently life-altering to a teenager.  Any of these circumstances could result in a child taking mom or dad's gun from home and  using it to try to take control of his world by wreaking havoc on his classmates and teachers at school.  Like with Columbine and now Newtown, before anyone had a chance to respond, lives were lost.

Almost every morning, I send my younger daughter, a college student, and my husband a text message that says, "Have a good day.  I love you."  I'm sure that on many days they both look at that text and think not too much about it.  But what if it is second period when something happens?  What if it is lunchtime in the cafeteria?  That text could be the last exchange we have with one another.  I hate to think that way, but it is more of a reality than any of us wants to believe.

We, as a nation, need to think and rethink our attitudes  surrounding gun.rights and legislation.  We are one nation under God.  We are not a whole bunch of individuals all owed what we think is best for us personally.  I have very strong opinions concerning this issue.  I could rant here in an effort to convince you to believe as I do.  However, the issue of gun rights causes great divisiveness in this country.  Now is not the time for divisiveness.  It is a time to grieve and to pray for those who are hurting, whose lives have been changed in a way that most of us can't even begin to comprehend.

There will come a time, sooner rather than later, when we all need to stand up and speak out for the safety of our children, our spouses, our parents, our friends and yes, for  strangers.  When it is time to listen, I will listen.  When it is time to speak out, I will speak out.  And when it is time to take action, I will take action.

Friday December 14, 2012 it was in Newtown, Connecticut.  Today, tomorrow, next week, next month it could be our town.