by Joanna Crawford
I was ironing on Tuesday -- ironing the cover for this one's bassinet (gesture to pregnant stomach)-- when they broke in on the tv with one of those "special report" leaders. "Oh, let it be something good," I thought, thinking that of course it would concern the crisis in Kosovo. The newscaster came on -- it wasn't Dan Rather or any of the other big names, so I assumed the 'special report' wasn't really important.
The newscaster announced that there had been a shooting in a school in Colorado, and that was all they knew at the time. And in an instant -- because we've seen this so many times, now -- I saw what the rest of the day would be. Hearing horrific stories throughout the day, getting the facts ...
But I simply couldn't guess the extent of the horror that we would later learn about.
To our teenagers here, my heart -- all of our hearts -- go out to you. You're living in a different world than we are. Myself, I'm right between generations on this -- it has been 12 years since I was in high school, and in another 12 years, my son will be in high school himself.
It still seems recent to me that I was in high school ... but the world has changed in that 12 years. I never worried about another student coming in and opening fire. I really feel for the parents in Littleton ... not only the parents of the victims, but the parents of the survivors. For some of them, their children have seen a horror that they never have. It's unreal -- while the parents were working in nice offices on computers, or at home, vacuuming the rug, perhaps, their children were viewing a sight usually reserved for soldiers during wartime.
And now, the children are going to need support and answers ... from their very innocent parents.
There is one bit of information that I was not able to find anywhere. These school killings have been happening since 1993. I wondered if any of the assailants had been church goers. I couldn't find this out. I kind of assume not, simply because that seems like something that the media would have immediately picked up on -- "Just a good church-going boy."
I tend to shy away from organized religion -- except for MY organized religion, as the saying goes. But no matter what is taught, there seems to be a universal truth in all churches -- the children (and I'm including all those 18 and under in this category) get attention from the church members. Goodness, after last night, I can't limit it to children -- in my experience, there is personal attention for most people, if not all, in church.
During the last few months, I have developed a close friendship with someone many would consider to be an unlikely match -- we met over the Internet because we are both due with babies around the same time. She is an American missionary, stationed in Moldova. Oh, and she's Free Will Baptist. I never would have thought it, but our similarities and values far outweigh any simple differences in theology.
This week, she wrote to me of her experiences -- not being able to go into a certain part of town because Russians have moved in, due to the conflict in Kosovo, being worried about giving birth in a place where they recommend you purchase your own scalpels and tubing "Just in case." I wrote to her about Colorado. Neither of us have a definite opinion as to which of us is living in the scarier area.
In the book Summer of My German Soldier there is any interesting paradox, as explained by the maid that befriends the young heroine. "Your father is evil," she explains to the girl, "he beats you, his own daughter. But could he ever be like Hitler and cause the deaths of millions of people? And Hitler is evil ... but could he beat his own daughter?"
It seems we are living this paradox. Our country can righteously (and rightfully) look with horror at Kosovo, at government sponsored gangs of bullies brutalizing ethnic Albanians. And yet, in Kosovo, do children go within their own schools, murdering fellow classmates?
Do they still make you read Lord of the Flies in High School? When I was in school, we read it in Freshman English. I hated it. The theme is that of natural evil ... that we are born animals and given the right set of circumstances, we will return to that. Especially, the point is made, that boys are evil little animals, and without adults around, will quickly turn into monsters. From the first time I read that book, I have disagreed with its premise, seeing the world as one of hope and one where our children are innocent and good.
But watching what happened in Colorado ... I'm not sure I can defend my point. And that bothers me.
Something else to think about ... all of these school killings have happened in public schools. None have been in private or church schools. Surely hazing goes on in private and church schools -- has the fact that private schools haven't had this happen been merely luck -- or are they doing something different?
On the Fox news channel, Tuesday night, they spoke to a local minister in the town. Oddly enough, it was a Unitarian minister, by the name of Rev. Joel Miller.
You would have been proud to see it. He said the things I think all of us believe ... that we as a society must FIND these children, give them attention. One point that he made really struck home with me ... especially after hearing my mother-in-law's talk this past Sunday. "Leave work a few minutes early," he said, "spend less time at the mall ... and find out what's happening with your neighbor."
By Thursday, the students of Columbine High were talking pretty honestly. They told of how the two boys who became gunmen, were made fun of, thrown up against lockers, etc. (Of course, I am in no way validating what they did -- but let's delve into this.)
I'm going to "out" my husband, in a manner of speaking. This is with his permission. Growing up, he wore huge coke-bottle glasses. He wore huge over-the-ear hearing aids. And he was little for his age.
From about third grade on, he was teased. Teased doesn't seem to encompass it. As an elementary student, he was the kid with the kick-me signs on his back. Tripped, made fun of ... by high school, the behavior had escalated. Some of the things that he told me that were done to him ... I couldn't believe. I'm no innocent -- I know kids can be cruel. But the extent of it ... the amount of physical abuse served up by the large, strong, popular students -- it appalled me.
And yet ...
This caused him to swing so far the other way ... to become one of the genuinely nicest people you'll ever meet. And very sensitive to underdogs.
We talked this week about what made the difference. Here's a few things that came up ... he was in Scouts, became an Eagle scout. Went to church every Sunday. Was in band and had a mother that came to every game and concert. His mother and step-father both worked, but they were a large part of his life. Every evening, the family had dinner together ... which, with all three of the kids being high-schoolers, wasn't easy. Tom always knew there were people watching him, that cared about him.
When Rosie O'Donnell won one of her Emmy's, with tears running down her face, she said -- "I just want to say to every kid out there who has a life that's not that great right now, hold on. Hold on, because it gets better, I promise you."
I was so impressed with that little thing. I don't think we give that message out very much. Instead, we try to sell this idea that "this is the best time of your lives."
When I was in high school, I had two terrific parents, many friends, I was in Drama, Speech, Editor of the school paper ... But that wasn't the best time of my life. And not because of some secret trauma -- my life was good. But it was hard. I think most of us can relate to that. Just ask someone if they're going to their high school reunion ... even the ones that go, will usually moan, remembering the cliques, the feeling like an outcast, the feeling of powerlessness.
We need to keep putting that message out there -- If you have a life that's not so great -- it gets better. If your life is terrific ... it gets even more terrific.
Right now, everyone has their opinion on the cause of this tragedy. Many of the opinions reflect the person's political leanings. In the Houston Chronicle, readers have written in with what they think bears the blame. These included some obvious, and to me at least, some of the less obvious:
- Guns and their wide availability
- No organized school prayer
- Not enough security
- President Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky matter
- Lack of a dress code which allowed students to wear black trench coats
- Violent video games
- Violent movies/ tv shows
- Day care
- Mothers working outside the home
- Lack of consistent, considered, appropriate parental discipline
- The Internet
- The recent Federal Crime Bill
- The fact that teachers and "normal" students weren't armed
I'm sure all of these things had their effect ... well, maybe not all.
What I keep going back to is a pretty underrated trait: kindness. It's funny, you don't really hear that word anymore, do you? You hear about compassion ... as in "compassionate conservative". But kindness seems to be a bit undervalued. It's not very exciting.
And yet ... that same concept ... simple kindness ... seems to be really appreciated by its recipients. Since a lot of movies are going to be referenced right now for negative reasons, I think I'll point out that last year's surprise hit -- and one that didn't exactly fit into anyone's version of tasteful cinema -- had, for its heroine, a woman adored for her kindness. "Something About Mary," that hip, if gross, flick, centered on Mary ... and the man she fell for, she fell for primarily because of his kindness to her retarded brother.
Kindness is appreciated. But are we actively teaching it? Are we purposefully teaching our children that a hero, at the very least, does not intentionally ridicule others? Are we raising our children to have a confidence that does not rely on making others feel inferior?
The irony in so many of the letters to the editor or in the opinions from the talking heads on tv, is that so many, in their zeal to pronounce what is to blame for this massacre have turned into taunting bullies themselves. "Let's play the liberal blame game," said one sentence. "The baby boomers who are obsessed with themselves, not their children," ridiculed another. "Absentee parents," spat one. "The American Civil Liberties Union will not pray for the families in Littleton" and "I'm sure the atheists are not praying for these families," proclaimed another.
I realize that school taunting is not a new thing. It has, I'm sure, been going on for as long as two or more children were gathered for learning. But as well we know, just because something has gone on forever, doesn't mean it should continue. And saying, "Well, that's just the way it is, some things will never change ..." goes against our Unitarian history.
As times change, we must change. Things that in the past could be inferred or assumed must now be actively taught. Be nice to other people. Don't intentionally hurt someone else's feelings. Real men -- and women -- help those that might appear more weak.
Perhaps something good can come from these tragedies ... if we all start focusing on kindness. If we make ridiculing others a social no-no. In the sixties, the hope was that because of planetary alignments, the Age of Aquarius was coming -- an age of peace and love. If our current society -- and its ills -- brought about a fear in us that in turn brought about nicer behavior ... do you think it will matter that it was motivated by fear?
There is a lot of anger about this tragedy emerging now. It's right on schedule, the seven stages of grief. I myself have some of it.
Actually, more than anger, there is one point about which I simply don't understand. I hesitate to bring it up, because I don't want to be misunderstood. But in talking with others, I think we've all wondered about this.
Where were all the grown-ups?
Of course, I don't really mean all. The stories coming out now about Coach Dave Sanders, who lead so many students away from the violence, even after he himself had been shot, touch your heart. This was a hero.
Many other teachers gathered students into classrooms, tried to kept them calm, barricading the door with their own bodies. Custodians herded students into bathrooms.
Confronted by the resentment that the police didn't storm the building, the authorities responded by pointing out that there were bombs, they didn't know how many assailants were inside, and rushing in could have made things worse.
"The public is not really familiar with the nuances of tactical response," said Larry Glick, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association. I can't disagree with that.
But there are two visions that, fair or not, have stayed in my mind.
For one, the secretary to the principal reported that she and the campus Supervisor hid under a desk for two hours, listening to the yelling and shooting, praying they wouldn't be killed.
I don't know what a campus Supervisor is. And I acknowledge that it's not fair to expect someone, just because they work in a school, to be willing to possibly give up their life in trying to help the students. I have friends here who are teachers, and I certainly would not want them doing such a thing.
But that's a vision that stays with you, doesn't it?
And the other vision is that of the police, milling around outside in bullet-proof vests, holding guns ... while inside were teenagers ... unarmed, completely vulnerable teenagers being shot at.
Again ... I tell myself not to make a judgment on this. There were bombs inside. I don't know what all was involved.
But one question -- would the situation have been handled any differently if the school in question were an elementary school?
I don't think there are any clear answers in any of this. The most important question now is where do we go from here? And we need everyone's input. Parents, teachers, authorities ... and most of all, our young adults.
There is one thing that is clear ... once again, we have received a reminder to open our arms and hug those dear to us. As we watched parents find their children Tuesday, saw them grab like they'd never let go, we cried. Thinking of the ones who will not get that opportunity, we wept harder.
Reach out to the ones you love. Reach out to your neighbors whom you don't know as well as you'd like.
And reach out to the outcasts, who feel they have no friends.
To close, I want to go back to the issue of parents and children.
Right before my son was born, I was talking seriously to my father about what I wanted for him -- for him to be happy, for him to know the difference between right and wrong, and for him to want to do what was right.
"You forgot the most important thing," said my father. "The most important thing, is that he knows you and his father love him.
"Kids are stupid," he informed me. (My father has a special way with words.) "You work your fingers to the bone for them, worry about them, try to give them all that you can -- and they look you right in the eye and say, 'Do you love me?'"
So you gotta tell them. Every day, all the time, beat it into their thick skulls. I love you. I will always love you. No matter what you say, no matter what you do, I will always love you."
And that's one place where the love is.