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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Epidemic of Anger

Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters
Copyright © 2012 by Ralph F. Couey
 Written content only
It has already been a worrisome year, a maelstrom of events, economic, political, and meteorological.  For some, it has become a question of survival.  A dark welcome mat has certainly been laid before the doorway leading to an appropriately-numbered 2013.

We were worried about jobs, about money, about war.

Then on Friday morning, all that became irrelevant.

The news flashed across our consciousness that yet another school shooting had occurred. There were probably many like me who saw the headline, sighed and whispered, "Not again."

But in a time when these kind of violent episodes occur far too often, we perhaps have become inured to such news. Then we heard about the death toll.

26 were dead. 20 of them were small children.

All of a sudden, everything changed.

A child is the very definition of pure innocence, and parents work hard to protect that. Despite Columbine, Virginia Tech, and other tragedies, we still thought of an elementary school as the one place, outside of home, where the safety of the kids was guaranteed. Parents walk them to the bus stop, and see them into their seats. At school, teachers and staff shepherd them from the driveway to their classes, with the process reversed in the afternoon. Like a precious gem, the chain of custody was unbroken.

In larger cities, there were, of course, dangers. But with care and responsibility, the threats were manageable. Small towns, like Newtown, were supposed to be different. This is a lovely village where most people know each other; a community populated by a cast that could have stepped from a Norman Rockwell painting. It was quiet. It was peaceful. It was safe. Families lived there for precisely that reason.

With the reality of this event comes a knowledge, dark and certain, that no longer is there any safe place. Violence can invade anywhere, anytime.

At work, I followed the breaking news all evening while my heart also broke, one piece at a time.

Driving home after midnight, I felt enveloped by a shroud of sadness, darker than the moonless night. When I got home, I walked down the hallway and stood in the doorway of the room where our two grandchildren were sleeping. The room was dimly lit by a nightlight and I could see their little forms snuggled beneath the covers. In the quiet of the night, I listened to their steady breathing. They were, safe, warm, and protected as they dreamed their dreams.

But I could only think of those parents who that very night would be looking at an empty bed, and hearing only a lonely stillness. Just the night before, a child had slept there. Yet tonight, the beds were empty; the children gone forever. I can't imagine the pain of such a moment.

There are two parts to this tragedy, one being the deaths of the children. The other is the agonizing pain of loss felt by the parents, grandparents, siblings, extended families, friends, and townspeople. For all of them, life must go on.  They must somehow find a way to survive while enduring an unbearable and unending sadness; the wound of the heart that will never fully heal.

Knowing that some 300 million Americans are holding them in a warm, tender, if virtual embrace will help. But the path of healing, rocky, pitted and entirely uphill, can only be walked by those who mourn.

In the midst of our national pain, we now await the inevitable, as both sides of the gun debate will exploit Sandy Hook and our raw emotions to pimp their respective causes. They don't understand that this is a time of mourning, not politicking.

The problem we face goes beyond the simple issue of guns.  Weapons are only the visible symptom. The illness is anger. For too long we've allowed it to fester.  In our passions over issues political and social, we have taught that anger to the young.  Unless we stop that plague, tragedies like Newtown will be repeated

But as terrible as this was, it was not the only tragedy today. In Hunan Province, China, a man walked into an elementary school, pulled out a knife, and slashed a teacher and 22 students. There was a shooting in an Alabama hospital. And in Oklahoma, police arrested a high school student who was already deep into planning an act that he hoped would one-up Columbine.

Where does this end?

We have put ourselves on a very dark path. The way is unknown, and the destination may very well be the edge of a cliff. We have taught our children, through our words, attitudes, and actions, through the protrayal of violence in popular culture, that the only resolution to conflict is violent retribution. These lessons can be untaught, but only if replaced with teachings of love, respect, and forgiveness.

We must never forget that for the children, we are all their teachers.

And their little eyes are always watching.
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