…a grieving Bleacherman has entered the stadium…
I am sure that when I finish writing this blog, I will quickly realize that this will be more of a personal catharsis than social commentary. It is just that today is that kind of day where I find myself dwelling in a dense, mental fog that reflects a mix of horror, confusion and anger.
For whatever reason or reasons, when I hear of a tragedy at a school where young children are harmed, my mind races back in time to when I first became morally conscious and outraged over the senseless death of a child. At that time, I, too, was just a child; still one year from my Bar Mitzvah and evolving into the dominion of manhood as dictated by my Jewish religion. It was in December in the year 1958. It was a cold, clear winter’s day. The air was festive; for most Christmas was less than four weeks away.
For me and my friends living in a modern day Jewish shtetl – which was the neighborhood of Albany Park on the North Side of the city Chicago, December 1st meant only two things; one, the winter holiday vacation from school was fast approaching and two, the festival of Chanukah was near.
On that Monday morning, as my friends and I were walking to Volta Elementary School, a feat accomplished in less than five minutes, the conversation focused on the Bears loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers the day before and the fact that our Sabbath afternoon tradition of bowling following a morning of mandated prayers at synagogue had not go very well a few days earlier. We found girls to be a very confusing species.
When school ended that afternoon, my friends and I all noticed that something was wrong. Something had happened. We could see it in the look of the eyes of our teachers and we could feel it in the extra squeeze received from our parents and grandparents once we arrived home. Of course, at that state in our lives, our first reaction was: “okay, WHAT did we do now?”
Later that night, as my family gathered in the living room to watch television, we all sat in horror as the first images of the Our Lady of Angels School fire was broadcast. The picture was a bit out of focus and no matter how much my father played with the rabbit ears antenna, the black and white picture continued to flicker up and down on the television screen. I remember that as I sat on the floor, staring at the television not quite understanding and comprehending what I was seeing; I could hear both my parents and my maternal grandmother moaning a chorus of, “oh my God” over and over again.
To this day, there are three pictures from that evening’s broadcast that remain etched into my memory and soul. They have taken root in my conscience mind and I can see them even today as if they were being broadcast in high digital definition. The first is the picture of a fireman, standing on a ladder that is propped up against an open window. Thick, dark, deadly smoke is bellowing from the window. The fireman leans into the building as if the toxic fumes seemingly had no impact on his respiratory system. A moment later he pulls a young girl from the darkness and begins to carry her lifeless, limp body down the steps of the ladder. Her body was draped across his arm as if she were a bundle of cloth. How does one forget that image?
The second picture is one where the camera pulled back and there was a row of ladders, standing in front of open windows each with thick plumes of smoke vomiting from the inner bowels of a school turned into a crematorium. The ladders, standing in a weaving line, looked like tired and overwhelmed soldiers on a parade line waiting to address the consequences of their defeat.
The third picture was devastating for both me and my parents to see. It was taken in the Cook County Morgue and showed about a dozen small bodies, covered in white sheets lying on steel framed slabs, each, one by one, being methodically catalogued by morgue workers. There was a priest standing a few feet away from the bodies, his face covered in a look of bewilderment and helplessness.
Later in life, this portrait of a man of God being so helpless in the shadows of such an overwhelming tragedy only reinforced my belief in the impotency of the omnipotent God that we worship. And just this past weekend, as people asked God, “Why?” in reference to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the answer from those who speak for this mystic and mysterious force always reference in one way or another that this authority of God cannot be questioned or even understood by us ignorant mortals.
At the moment I am angry and I am frustrated. I am tired of seeing children killed. I am tired of seeing our malls, theaters and schools turned into target ranges for deranged madmen. I am disgusted by the acts – both of omission and commission – by God and by man. We, mankind, are murderers of our children and short-sighted politicians and God and the dogmas of religion are our accomplices.
Why do I blame God, you ask? Maybe you’re right; maybe the guilty are those who sell us this concept of a God that is all powerful, all knowing and, in embedded in the core of the hyperbole that the God sales force calls fact, all protecting. So far I have not seen much to affirm God’s ability to protect those that cannot protect themselves. Where was this God when endless holocausts wiped out nations of people? Where was this God when the madmen and their weapons invaded the sanctuaries of schools, malls, theaters and the streets of our cities?
We must accept the fact that fault for this tragedy is collective in us all. God, man, profiteers of violent video games and movies, politicians who will fund wars but not pay for mental help outreach programs are all responsible. CEOs of billion dollar oil companies that demand tax subsidies then cry over high tax rates and government social programs are also at fault.
So what do we do? How do we take on the challenge of protecting our children and their guardians? Taking away access to the most lethal of weapons is a good first start but we need to also take a look at the role others factors have played in the tragedy at Newtown and all the other locations where madmen and their guns have killed the innocent.
I am not a psychologist but my instincts tell me that a majority of these mass murders become a reality only after unstable people recognize and understand that their internal rage can be easily and quickly manifested into action because of the accessibility and availability of some very lethal weaponry. It is one thing for someone who is very angry at the world and wants to lash out and punish those that they feel are responsible for their misery to say that they are going to exact their revenge by the use of force. It is another to actually transfer that anger into a tangible reality. And that transfer of visualized power into actual power is aided by the ability for someone to go out and buy a gun and to load it with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. The dream of revenge, of striking back is now just a pull of the trigger away.
So what do we do?
I believe that the first step to take this tool of transfer, this weapon that will easily and lethally transform mental images into human carnage off the table. Make it harder to buy guns and once and for all outlaw those extended ammunition clips that in seconds turn murder into mass murder.
Why will a restriction on availability of weapons work? It will work because nothing is going to stop someone who has the will to kill innocent people from acting on such a compelling emotion. But if we make the process of manifestation – turning their emotions into lethal actions – more difficult and more complex, then those that seek to create mayhem will be impeded from easily obtaining the tools necessary to bring their violence upon the innocent. The harder it is for them to act, the more likelihood that they will not.
So step one is to take the first option, the easy option and act on it. But it is not all that we must do.
To proclaim victory if we pass some form of gun control equates to one massive premature ejaculation of ego. Doing the end zone victory dance would be foolishness and short-sighted. It would be like an end zone dance done by a football player who has scored a touchdown when there is ten seconds left in the game and his team is losing 56 to 7.
If we do not also address the needs of those in need of mental health assistance programs, the massacres will continue to plague the landscape of our country.
Our approach tothese massacres has been more of an avoid-the-cost today but pay-the-greater-cost tomorrow tactic. I wonder how many of these massacres could have been avoided if we had not shut down all of the mental health programs that have fallen victim to small government, budget-balancing politics. For this I blame the politicians. For this I blame those who would fight a war in Afghanistan and Iraq rather than to fund mental health care programs for our ill. For this I blame the politician who will give billions in subsidies to billion dollar oil companies and leave pennies for mental health. For this I blame the citizen on the street who walks by a homeless man squatting in a doorway and immediately dismiss the person as someone who is either a drug addict or an alcoholic; either of which was a choice and direction they chose. Do they really care if the homeless man is not a drug addict or an alcoholic? Do they even care if the man they glare with contempt at was someone who fought on the battlefield to protect their rights to walk freely down the street? Do they care? Do any of us really care?
We are quick to give lip service here and there and write a check on the holidays to the charities of the world; but do we really care? A better question to ask is whether or not we really want to care? I fear not. Sometimes we are great actors and the world is our stage as we bounce back and forth from euphoria to grieving as easily as Shakespearean actors change clothes to take on the next act of a tragic play.
Mike Huckabee says that the cause of the carnage at Newtown is because we have taken God out of the classroom. But what could God have done? Was he going to strike down the shooter with a bolt of lightning? Was he going to instill a belief in some doctrine and dogma designed to serve a specific Master. Would that God Huckabee wants to put in schools preach the doctrine of Buddha, or the Torah or the Koran? Or would Huckabee’s God become the American standard that and be forced down the throats of non-believing children like bad tasting medicine? Is that God Huckabee wants to instill in children be the indoctrinating God of Jesus who says that those not believing in him will be sent to live in hell for eternity.
(So tell me Huckabee, what do I tell my Jewish child who comes home crying because he is being taught in a public school that he is a bad person and is going to rot in hell. No, Huckabee, indoctrinating our children into your and I emphasize YOUR belief system will only cause more problems than they will resolve.)
If God was the answer, where has he been all these centuries? It seems that this omnipotent, mysterious God of ours has done very little to help stop the mass murders, the wars, the Holocausts.
The cause of this tragedy is found in each and every one of us. Somewhere we all must bear some responsibility to the tragedy in Newtown and all those that have preceded it and, regrettably, follow it. We will not stop the tragedies. Our only hope is to limit their frequency and reduce the number of fatalities. That is our only hope. And to achieve this limited nirvana we must man up and live up to our responsibilities of living in a civil society. We do not need a population armed to the teeth with high power weapons in fear that our government is going to send troops and tanks down Main Street to subjugate the population. Nor are those that have mental health issues going to heal themselves.
Once we face reality head on, we can then do what is necessary to protect our children.
…the Bleacherman has left the stadium…