Months have passed since news broke of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In all the words written and spoken, a missing point of view is how the tragedy impacted fathers and mothers already burdened by previous acts of violence.
I am a father of two teenage boys and carry within me dark memories. When I was 12 years old, I lived in Poland, Ohio, a place even smaller than Newtown. One day a tragedy occurred that ended the illusion that life is a rosy journey. One disturbed young man walked into barber’s office while he was cutting the hair of two boys the same age as me. A gun was pulled out and he shot the barber and the two boys dead and then himself.
Little did we know that the barber was also selling drugs. The young man who did the shooting was one of his clients and owed money. His crazed retaliation ended the life of two innocent boys.
This event devastated me for two reasons. One, I had been there about ten days earlier getting my hair cut. There but for fortune go you and I, right? And just two days before the shooting, I pitched against the two boys in a Little League game. I was a little wild when I pitched and one got away from me when facing the youngest of the two brothers. My fastball knocked his helmet clean off his head. He was unhurt but just stood there with the bat in his hands stunned and crying. I was upset at myself at the time. When I found out he was dead a couple of days later, I was stunned. Can you imagine?
As if that incident was not enough, I lived in the Washington, DC metro area during 9-11 and the sniper shootings. My boys were very young then.
September 11th was all together different from what happened in Poland. Collectively, we realized our neighborhoods and kids were no longer safe. An age of innocence ended again in the blink of an eye. The probability of terrorist attacks, perhaps even with nuclear or chemical weapons, suddenly became very real.
The sniper upped the ante even further. The entire community was paralyzed with fear. Had we known that they were shooting out of the trunk of a car, no one would have let their kids go to school. One victim, who survived, was a young boy who got hit outside his school in the early morning. The shooting occurred about two miles as the crow files from where my boys went to school.
It is against this backdrop that I took my kids to school when they were between K and fourth grade. When I walked them into the school, or later when they left the car smiling and laughing, I prayed that I would see them again at the end of the day. Were my fears getting the best of me? Perhaps, but events old and new had changed everything.
Now there is a Newtown living inside parents everywhere. We are again forced to confront reality. Violence can strike anywhere even in small quaint communities or a movie theatre.
The truth is our society is growing exponentially more violent all the time. Killing someone with a gun is an extreme manifestation of the path we are on as a society. Our schools are subject to bullying and other forms of intimidation. TV shows, most of which show some sort of violence, are watched without a second thought.
Violence that takes place regularly in society and should make all of us re-examine our own lives. Yes, better gun laws will help and are needed. But government intervention is only one part of the solution. The challenge we face is much more organic.
We have reached a point where it is necessary to address the root causes of violence. Life at home should be a starting point. The circle of dysfunction must be broken. At school, kids should be urged to participate in positive life-affirming endeavors– from sports to the arts.
Of course, there are no easy or fast solutions to making America a less violent society. Nothing will ever stop a barber from selling drugs or a sick person from getting a gun. But continuing on the present path is literally suicidal.
And that’s just it, every parent worries about their kids. We have all seen the face of evil far too many times. Our communities must ban together and become communities once again.