Friday, December 14, 2012



How could this happen again?

How could it happen to kids this young?

This week I started substitute teaching. Something I'd never done before but something I had always thought might be fun, stimulating, interesting, rewarding.

My week began with a pre-dawn phone call to go to a school serving K-4 students; the same ages as were victimized by some inhuman being in Newtown. Now my week ends as I leave a school for a third day with a smile on my face and a feeling of being a part of something special. I lit up my phone after the day was over and as I walked to my car. That's when I learned what had happened.

Hundreds of thousands of words will be written about this. The coming days we'll be inundated with teary memorial services, words about all of the victims, speculation about the shooter, funerals, heartbreaking stories about the holiday gifts that will never be opened. Stories about how the kids will deal. The school may be torn down.

There will be lamenting, rending of garments, gnashing of teeth. And then it will fade. And we'll forget the whole thing until it happens again. After all, since the Columbine horror of 4/20/1999, there have been 31 other school shootings in this country.


One of the kids I interacted with this week is troubled. I met another today, who, in a writing project, revealed a sad glimpse of a broken family.

In that same writing project, violence emerged as a theme in many of them. How can it be that kids no more than 13 years old have such a grim view of existence?

Kids are like works of art: they reflect the mores and values of society.

What do we value? Well, these kids have never had a memory that didn't involve a nation at war. It's not as in their faces as it is for kids living in the Middle East, but it's still there. If war wasn't enough, we can always look to the things we see on TV... written programming deals with violent crime, loose morals and dysfunctional families. Crime procedurals make it seem as if murder and sex crimes are daily occurrences. They've come to look at this as normal.

Because it is.

This country is filled with murders, sex abusers, criminals. We're the most incarcerated nation on earth. It's not even close. And we're among the leaders in the world for nations who execute people, trailing only China, Iraq and Iran. Is it a coincidence that those nations figure so prominently in our lives these days? We're allegedly "exporting democracy" to Iraq. We'd love to export some death to Iran. And China basically owns us. I dare you to look at the percentage of shit you own that's from China and feel good about it.


But being around these kids this week, even those who are struggling to develop an identity and understand the unknowable dynamics of human relationships, was inspirational to me. I've been seriously underemployed for about a year and a half. This job just for a paycheck could feed my psyche, but being a part, even a teeny, tiny part, of helping these kids grow feeds my soul.

And this weekend, they'll ask horrible questions. On Monday, at school, they'll probably be told evacuation and emergency procedures a lot more likely to happen than a fire drill.

When was the last time you heard of 20 kids dying in a school fire? I can't recall a single instance. Surely it's happened.

So kids now need bullet-dodging drills.


We talked about the Mayans today. In the review portion, we wanted the students to report what the Mayans ate. One boy asked if they ate pigs. I said "it's possible, but then again, some cultures won't eat pork because they think it's unclean." He said "My family won't. We're Muslim." I told him that the Jews won't eat pork, either. He then went to ask a Jewish kid about it.

A Muslim kid and a Jewish kid talking about something they have in common. How about that?


What none of these kids should ever have in common is being a survivor, or a victim, of the deranged act of an evil person.

It's hard for me to give the shooter the benefit of a doubt and hard for me to not see him as deranged or evil. Hard not to believe that. Because to me, and to most of us, killing kids is certainly evil, and if it isn't spurred by malevolence, then it must be some sort of brain malfunction that made him deranged and therefore mentally ill.

I want to hate this shooter. I want to be happy he's dead, either by his own hand or the hands of a police sharpshooter. Maybe he was just a miserable little nothing who had to do something horrible to get noticed.

Maybe he was a troubled kid who needed someone to reach out to him and help him connect with people in a constructive way. Who knows?

But what we do know before we find out more -- and the murders happened just 8 or so hours ago -- is that the system broke down somewhere. Something went wrong with this guy. He obviously had a troubled family life, at least in his mind. Could someone, or something, have saved this guy? And as a consequence, save us all from the shame and embarrassment of another horrible day?

And isn't it time we had some sensible gun control laws that make this sort of thing more rare? I support the second amendment. I cannot support the shady shit that the NRA and its adherents use to justify an "anything goes, Wild West" atmosphere that makes it OK to have assault weapons so easily obtainable.

No one needs those kinds of arsenals. They just don't. The second amendment couldn't envision the firepower out there today. None of those kids at Newtown, Columbine, Jonesboro, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson... God, how can there be so many?... None of those kids were killed by musket fire.

This week I was lucky enough to be a part of a world that made me think about the great possibilities before us.

Today I was reminded about how far we still have to go to attain those great possibilities.

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