Friday, February 15, 2008

the horrible possibility

This is what we expect when we send our children to college:

They will learn independence.
They will grow away from us (whether we like it or not).
They will take major steps toward their futures.
They will go to parties (probably too many).
They will become excited about subjects they never knew they could get excited about.
They will make new friends.
They will study a lot (and at the oddest hours).
They will make mistakes.
They will in all likelihood do things we would prefer that they not tell us about.
They will mature.
They will become increasingly involved in whatever they believe in.
They will experiment in many ways (mostly good).
They will come away with the tools (and the diploma) that will allow them to get going in life.

This is what we never expect:

They will be sitting in a classroom dutifully taking notes when, out of nowhere, a madman walks in, takes out a gun, and opens fire. There is pandemonium, the sound of a shotgun's report echoing against an increasing foreground of screams, panic as over a hundred students run for doorways or drop to the ground and crawl, hoping to get out of the bullets' way. Someone is yelling "Run, run," and someone in the crush of bodies at the doors is hollering "He's got a gun" and all of them are crying and the gun just keeps spraying bullets somewhere behind them until they can't hear it anymore in the confusion and horror.

Outside, if they are lucky enough to have gotten outside, they are hustled away from the building where the attack had taken place. Many are already on cell phones, calling 911, calling home. Others collapse, crying, onto the grass or sidewalk as soon as they are far enough away to know that they are safe. Many do not stop running until they are in their dorms. Many do not stop running until they have left campus entirely.

There was a time when something like this would shock the systems of anyone who heard about it, when it would make us stop and stare at the news in horror and awe and outrage, when our very senses would rebel against the comprehension of it. That time has passed. Now, when the news comes, our first stunned reaction is more likely to be something along the lines of "Not again" or, if the school is close by, "Not here too."

We know this scene now; it is far too familiar, far too entrenched in our collective memories ever to forget it. It is another indelible frame in the ever-growing panoply of photographs that takes up an entire wall within our minds, joining the limousine with the woman scrambling over the back, the three-prong explosion against a blue Miami sky, the naked girl running, screaming, down a Vietnam street, the bound hostages kneeling before men in black masks bearing machine guns, the towers burning, the towers falling, the great hole where the towers once stood, and most powerful of all the tremendous mushroom cloud of the nuclear bomb: it is the wall that tells the story of our loss of innocence, of our fall from grace.

From unrest and assassinations in the sixties to the school shootings of the 90's and 00's, we have passed through more phases of denial than ought to be possible. We do not ever believe that such things can happen, yet they happen over and over again. I wonder if it is a tribute to American resilience that we can somehow return again and again to a state of harmonious distance from such evil, or if it is something else, perhaps a desperate need to believe that these people are not the world, that they are aberrations, that though we live in an imperfect place and time we still live in as good a place and time as we can possibly have, and we cannot and should not allow ourselves to embrace the idea that these events signal its impending demise, its coming plunge into insanity and disorder.

We send out children off to college for something better than that. We believe in something better than that. We must believe in something better than that, in a future in which we can help these depraved and despondent people before they end up doing these horrifying things, before they strip us of our innocence and our facade of safety. We want to, we have to believe in a world where we do not have to fear what is around every dark corner. We need that world. We need it.

But the wall within our minds, the wall of shattered innocence, continues to grow. And now added to that wall are the images of Northern Illinois University and the second mass killing on an American campus in less than a year. One time we might dismiss as a singular event; twice, though, is something else altogether. We send our children to college to get an education, not to die. There is nothing in the brochures about that. They show ivy and green lawns, not uzis and pistols. But for parents of college students today, that terrible possibility is now a reality. And for those parents, life just became a bit more uneasy.

1 comment:

M said...

For all parents, especially those of us with children who will soon head off to college, it is as you say, an uneasy time. But I am hopeful that this senseless tragedy will serve to illuminate yet again the mental health crisis that exists in schools across our nation. Whether at the junior high, high school, or college level, there are students raising red flags everyday because of their erratic behavior. We can not be afraid to get involved. The Virginia Tech shooter had a long history of mental illness, and as we are now learning, the NIU student had mental health issues of his own. Perhaps if there had been an intervention in the two weeks preceding last week’s shooting spree, the tragedy could have been averted. We must do more than mourn these beautiful young people whose promise and potential will never be realized. We must honor their memory by seeking out solutions, even when there seem to be none.


it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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