“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
― Fred Rogers
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
― Fred Rogers
December 14th, 2012.
In the week since that day, there has been so much talk, so much sadness, so much pain and empathy.
As a parent, I can’t even begin to imagine how I’d go on if I lost one of my children. If you have more than one you have to keep it together, stand up tall and be strong for the others. If you lose your one and only, there can’t be enough condolences, distractions, time or self medicating to ease the pain. No gesture, no matter how big, could possibly help.
As a parent, I do everything in my power to keep my kids safe. There are curfews and places they just aren’t allowed to go. They are never able to walk alone. The more bad things happen; stabbing at a Jr High bonfire, drive by in a friend’s neighborhood, fight at the movie theater after dark, a girl in another zip code disappearing on the way to her morning bus… the more things go on my girl’s “no can do” list. They think I’m paranoid. Maybe I am. I prefer to think I’m cautious and practical.
This past week has brought up discussions about gun control, mental health, school security. Everyone seems to have a side and is sure that these things wouldn’t happen if we just had better access to mental health care, more gun control, gates around the school. I’ve heard attempts to find an answer- Asperger’s, “broken home”, “troubled”, “losing control”.
Why? We all want to know why anyone would do something so vicious to so many, so innocent, someones. So we watch the news coverage until our minds are blurred and we can’t cry anymore. The news is relentless. And we still don’t know why. And, you know what? We never will. That boy is gone. (yes, I know he’s a man, but I have a 20 year old, so to me, they’re still boys) His mother is gone. There will be no acceptable answers, only obsessing. I am willing to accept that sometimes really bad things happen. Often to really good, people, for no reason at all. I’m moving on from the why, letting it go, and hope you’ll do the same.
Let’s focus, instead, on how to prevent things like this from happening in the future.
Shall we work to make sure that people, in need of mental health care, get it. Absolutely. Will that solve the problem? No. Some people just won’t seek help, don’t want interference. Some parents will pull their kids out of school and try to handle it themselves. In over their heads and scared for their safety, but not wanting to go public with an issue that carries such social stigma.
Have stricter gun control? Yup. I believe in our right to bear arms, but the average citizen has neither the reason, nor the wherewithal, to have a gun in their home. NO ONE, in this country, has a reason to own an assault rifle. So, by all means, control that mess, will you?
Shall we put big fences with barbed wire and armed guards in every school across America. Sure. In California we can barely afford to educate our kids anymore, so let’s get them used to being surrounded by bars, fear and despair.
Shall we allow teachers, principals and school nurses to pack concealed weapons on campus. Oh, yeah. And let’s include the bus drivers, janitors and administrative staff, while we’re at it. To be fair. Because what would be really helpful, in these situations, is for everyone to be armed, because more bullets flying means better protection. Or, as my friend put it, “Stopping school shootings by putting more guns in schools is like trying to stop the spread of STDs by having more unprotected sex”.
In Sandy Hook and Columbine I heard people describing the aggressors as shy, strange, uncomfortable, reclusive. I heard them saying, “he was weird and carried a briefcase when we all had backpacks”, “he was smart and always raised his hand to answer”. I read that a mother pulled her son out of school because it was so difficult for him to be there. And that the boys, feeling picked on and ridiculed by their classmates, were angry and hurt.
The other night I heard a priest say, “Don’t be overcome by evil, but by good. Don’t look to God, look to yourselves”. I instantly connected it with the way I feel.
When I was in Kindergarten there was a girl named Tina in our class. She looked different and dressed different. No one wanted to be friends with her and they called her weird. She ate lunch alone. When I came home from my first day of school, my Mom asked me about my day. I told her about Tina; how she was weird and no one wanted to be friends with her. My Mom told me that I was to go to school the next day, be her friend and eat lunch with her. I hated my Mom. She was making me a social outcast, just like Tina. The next day I went to school, ate lunch with Tina ( I still remember what she was wearing!) and found out that she wasn’t weird. We became friends and I learned a valuable lesson that I have been passing down ever since…Be nice.
One idea, much too simple to legislate, but we do what we can, where we can…Be good to one another. Even the weird kid. The one with the bad haircut and old clothes. The one who, annoyingly, always raises his hand in class. That homeless guy with the dog, who begs for money on the corner every day. That jerk that cut you off at the grocery store, the gas station, on the freeway. The family in front of you, paying for their groceries with food stamps.
Be nice. Smile. Wave. When that homeless guy throws you the peace sign, throw it right back. Volunteer. Donate. Offer help where you can. But don’t make them feel bad. We all have our troubles. Some more obvious then others, and you never know what the breaking point might be for someone. So, please, just be nice. It probably won’t prevent bad things from happening, but you never know, and, at least, you will have done your part.
And, really, what else is there?