all of the selves we Have ever been
As I sat in the dentist’s waiting room, another patient arrived and took the seat across from mine. We both heard someone in the back say, “Barbara is here,” and she laughed.
“You must be important,” I said. This got Barbara laughing again and reflecting on her eight-year-old great-nephew scheduled to be in an upcoming family wedding. Recently, her nephew tried on the tuxedo he would wear to the event. He looked at himself in the mirror and said, “I look like a distinguished gentleman.”
Barbara delighted in describing her precocious great-nephew. I, too, love the earnestness of children, and I pictured the boy staring at himself in the mirror with his eyes full of pride and his heart filled with dreams.
I waited for my own appointment dressed in amazement--amazed that there is still a child living in this crazy world today who believes that distinguished gentlemen exist! I thought the species had become extinct. I urgently wanted to find the young man to encourage this desire in him and to provide some advice before the world twists his noble ambitions.
If only clothes could make the man, a massive wardrobe change would be in order. I wanted to warn this sweet child that it is not by the treasure of a man’s closet that he distinguishes himself. No, a man distinguishes himself by the treasure of his heart.
Just this week more children and school staff were gunned down inside a grade school. An elected Nashville representative said there is nothing that can be done. A helpless elected official who homeschools his own children and leaves the others to perish does not distinguish himself as leader no matter what he is wearing; he reduces himself to an unwitting accomplice in the next school shooting. Do these words truly reflect the treasure of this man’s heart?
I cannot bear another helpless round of “thoughts and prayers.” It is time for examination. Let us not become a culture extinguished by guns and violence. Let us be a people distinguished by the good treasure of our hearts. Let our words and actions reflect the treasures we value. Surely, our children are among them.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” - Luke 6:45
Law enforcement responds to a call.
It is from a day care center, a grade school, a high school, a college campus, a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a concert, a festival, a public protest, a movie theater, a nightclub, a bar, a restaurant, a grocery store, a convenience store, a subway station, an Interstate Highway, a gas station, a military base, a Congressional baseball game, a campaign event, a Veterans Home, a municipal building, a manufacturing plant, a park, a bank, a shopping mall, a jewelry store, a city street, a birthday party, a block party, a football watch party, a post office, a FedEx facility, a factory, an office park, a newspaper office, a library, a massage parlor, a yoga studio, a health care facility, a hotel, a trailer park, a home, an apartment complex, a neighborhood door-to-door rampage.
There is an intruder.
He has guns.
And body armor.
He has a plan.
And a belief system.
He is influenced by hate-filled public discourse and an on-line community of like-minded individuals who provide him with an audience for this act, an act for which his audience will dub him a hero.
Is he mentally ill?
It is difficult to assess in this digital age in which inattention, thought disturbances, paranoia, and personality disorders have become main stream, an age in which many have willingly surrendered the higher powers of the human mind, gifts such as impulse control, empathy, and insight. We are trading our humanity for followers and likes. It is becoming cool to be unkind.
We ask ourselves what must be done about mass shootings. And the truth is that we need intervention at every level.
Law enforcement needs to be better prepared and more vigilant as do we in our comings and goings from all of the normal places we live and frequent. The list above is a list of all the places mass shootings have occurred in this country. There is no place untouched.
We must do something to stop the proliferation and use of guns, especially assault weapons. We must be vigilant for signs and reports of planning. And most basic of all, we must stop the hate-filled, divisive public discourse that is overwhelming all of us in person, in print, on television, and on-line. We are exhausted by it, but there are some minds more fragile and more susceptible, people who will be damaged and act out in ways that harm us all.
We need to prioritize human rights and human safety over gun rights and gun safety. The people who fill our legislatures need to represent the good people of America. There are enough of us to really show our power at the polls. And while we are at it, maybe we should change the rules of the game. Let’s show our elected officials to whom we have given good salaries, Cadillac health insurance, and big pensions what the gig economy we face looks like. Let’s limit their pay to the work they get done. If they want to represent special interests, let them go to work in corporate America.
In the mean time, there are enough of us. If we have to, we can lock arms and form a human chain around every school in America so that our children will know they are safe, that grown-ups are in charge, that parents are not defenseless, that they can believe in us again. My children are grown, but sign me up. I’ve got the rest of my life to give for something that matters so much.
With talk of de-funding the police in schools, I reflect on school security during my own years of education.
Most of my learning was acquired in Catholic schools. My military family moved frequently, so I have a larger school sample than most of my peers.
Police didn’t visit schools when I was an elementary student. Teachers could pretty much handle any crime wave that broke out—gum chewing, late arrivals, bus shenanigans... In Catholic school, if a person in uniform was needed, a nun would do. Dressed in distinctive garb, nuns wore a giant rosary around their waists, crosses dangling like revolvers. One false move and a kid could be sprayed with shame and humiliation. It was very effective until it went out of style some time during the mid-to-late 1980's when the self-esteem movement took hold. Self-esteem was not invented yet when I was a kid. My trophy-less mantle proves it.
In one school where I spent some of first, second, and third grades, the day began with the principal going from one classroom to the next. We could hear her coming, and we all knew she was carrying a wooden paddle. When Sr. Principal knocked on the door, the classroom sister was ready. Out went the students who had a bus report that morning. We could hear the paddle cracking across their small behinds just beyond the door. “Beware, my pretty!” was the morning greeting before the expression, “Have a nice day,” was invented.
Throughout the average school day, minor infractions were dealt with swiftly by the classroom teacher. A child biting his fingernails might feel a ruler come down over his knuckles. One wriggly youth was often picked up from his seat by a long pointer under his shirt collar. A student could be made to stay after school and do chores or extra assignments and was then expected to walk home if he or she missed the bus. Parents always sided with teachers, so a kid knew there was more to come when he got home.
My biggest infraction in elementary school was being left-handed. Moving to that new town with the school year in progress, the second grade teacher, Sr. Genevieve, zeroed in like a laser on my dominant hand as soon as I took my seat. She was relentlessly abusive in her efforts to make me right-handed. I think she believed that left-handed was the same as leftist. And it was the Cold War. The McCarthy hearings had ended a few years before I was born, but that didn’t discourage Sr. Genevieve’s determination to rout out budding leftists. The ongoing exercise scrambled my brain and damaged my gross motor coordination which then became the focus of a new series of attacks. Once a child came under surveillance, it never ended. J. Edgar Hoover was surely proud of Sr. Genevieve. I didn’t care too much for her, and, thankfully, we moved again before I was excommunicated or thrown into a federal penitentiary.
By high school, the world was changing faster than a nun’s habit. While the sisters’ skirts were getting shorter and their headdresses smaller, a new counter-culture was blossoming. America was getting restless with a war in Vietnam fought largely by teenagers, a drug culture was growing on the streets and college campuses, and Civil Rights Movements and Women’s Movements were happening everywhere. That was a lot more movement than was generally allowed in Catholic high school. My friends and I remained under the tight security of nuns and Catholic guilt. However, it was the 1970's, and there was the occasional bomb threat. Police turned up at school every now and then to search the building. While the men in blue scoured the school premises, the women in black watched over us. The students in their unfashionably long grey skirts and navy blue knee socks happily passed the time in the parking lot wishing they had a bigger campus to be searched. Perhaps the school would not be safe until the police investigated the Kaufmann’s Department Store and bank across the street. We made our best argument to the art instructor, the most gullible of teachers.
Those bomb threats and the growing social unrest gave the adolescent student body the energy to join the movement. One day someone managed to arrange a student walk-out. During the change of classes we discovered the words “Go home Jerome,” (a reference to the principal) painted on a statue of the Blessed Mother holding an open book. At an appointed time following the discovery, all of the students stormed out of the building en masse. With no security footage back then, there was no way to single out one student for punishment. The nuns might as well have been hit with a stun gun. They were used to doing the intimidating, but the pointer had turned.
Other than that protest march, my only real infraction in high school was defiantly chewing a piece of gum in the classroom once or twice. Imagine the threat to law, order, property, and hygiene! It is probably on my permanent record. I am surprised I wasn’t kicked out of National Honor Society and forbidden from graduating.
My friends who are now the teachers tell me that the transition from “power to the people” to “power to the pupil” has gone too far. Schools are becoming more dangerous. Students no longer fear teachers; students fear each other. And teachers fear students and angry parents. How did we get here? Perhaps that is the bigger conversation we must have before we remove security from some of our schools.
As for me, I have come out. I openly write left-handed. (Take that, Sr. Genevieve!) I can still do many things right-handed, but my brain remains scrambled. The right hand doesn’t always know what the left hand is doing. And neither do I--except that I deliberately chew gum EVERY DAY.
I remain on the run—a radical leftist gum chewer.