Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Beyond Reason

Sorry, folks, but I really have to rant.

This morning I was watching television news coverage of that horrible church shooting in Tennessee. (For international readers, over the weekend a gunman walked into a church during a youth performance and opened fire, killing two adults and wounding seven others.) The news reporters gave some details of what happened, interviewed some witnesses and then, to no one's surprise, said that ridiculous thing news reporters always seem to say when covering tragic events like this: we still don't know the reason he did it.

I can end the mystery right now. Here's the reason. The man walked into a church with a shotgun and started shooting people because he's a frigging nut! Is there really any other reason, any valid thought process, that leads someone to enter a church and start blasting away?

It's a lazy reporter's cliche I first noticed when another psycho walked into an Amish schoolhouse a couple of years ago and started shooting little girls. Shaking their heads sensitively for emphasis, the newsmen reported they discovered why the gunman struck: he had had some kind of social rejection once upon a time and felt anger toward school girls.

Is what triggers some psychopath's individual demons really the "reason" he attacks? And are the news people somehow suggesting there are degrees of senselessness in those reasons for shooting people in churches and classrooms? Obviously, these reporters would never try to make a joke out of this tragedy; that would be disrespectful. Here's my point: is it any less so for them to infuse the event with artificial drama and a complete unwillingness to think about what's being reported? 


Not-Sure-If-Related Item: We Respectfully Request the Honor of your Going Ahead and Making Our Day

With the foregoing rant still fresh in my labanza, I saw this item today in the local newspaper, or what passes for one. Around dinner time this past Saturday night, a local woman, aged 60, was arrested for approaching her loud-partying neighbors with a handgun. According to the article, the woman "admitted bringing the gun out but denied pointing it at anyone, saying she had politely asked the family to keep the noise down because she was trying to sleep."We can only guess what Emily Post would suggest as a polite way for asking a neighbor to keep the noise down while you're holding a handgun. Maybe she had her pinky up while reaching for the trigger. In any event, for the next several months she'll no doubt be dividing her time between working with her attorney to prepare her defense, and writing thank-you notes to all those nice people at Smith and Wesson.


Totally Unrelated Item: I Have a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore

A while back I wrote about some favorite movie quotes. I'm shocked - shocked! - to discover I somehow left out one that should have been at, or at least very near, the top of the list.

Wizard: As for you, my galvanized friend, you want a heart. You don't know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will never be practical until they're unbreakable.

Tin Man: But I still want one.


It's Always Something

I wanted to end this on a positive note. This past weekend I had the most wonderful time working at an event - the annual "Noogie Carnival" - with an amazing group of people at a local Gilda's Club chapter. For anyone unfamiliar with it, Gilda's Club is a network of community-based support groups for people touched by cancer; that's everyone from the patients themselves to their families and friends, adults and children. The environment there is welcoming, well thought-out, and just plain phenomenal. They don't provide medical care, but complement it in the most warmly human way with emotional and social support. [Housekeeping note: I borrowed a good bit of that description from their mission statement.]  Named, of course, for the great Gilda Radner, it was started after she passed away by her husband, her cancer psychotherapist, and some friends who wanted to carry on the kind of community-based support Gilda herself had found comfort in during her illness. These are great people doing really important work. I've never used this space for this kind of item before (at least I don't think so), and I have no intention of making a habit of doing so, but in this case I'm happy and proud to make the exception. If you check them out - www.gildasclub.org - I strongly suspect you'll be glad you did.

And that's a rant I'm glad to share.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Teach Them Well and Let Them Lead the Way

"I'm living my life based on decisions a 17-year-old made." (Stew, "Passing Strange")
The young men - I'm going to have to get used to not saying "boys" anymore - are now 18 and high school graduates. (They actually graduated a couple of weeks ago, but it takes time to get to things sometimes, you know?)
If you've had the experience, you know it's a time of great joy, and great emotion. There's seeing a fast-forward version of the maturing of your own children, of course. And having that underscored by seeing their classmates, the ones you've watched grow since kindergarten, as adults themselves. And realizing that along with growing older yourself, you've grown and changed in almost as many ways as they have. What you heard all those years ago really is true: adults don't make children. Children make adults. And it's a process that ends only when you do.
The ceremony itself was fun, dignified and mercifully short. The mayor spoke (zzzzzzzzzzz), as did the superintendant of schools, who expressed dismay over how much he was having to pay to send his own children to college. (Must be hard on that $200,000 a year salary, Mr. Superintendant.) My mother and sister came with us, as did my father-in-law and his friend. I thought of my dad. At my 40th birthday party some years ago (ok, a big bunch of years ago), I told my father, who had not been well at the time, how great it was that he was able to be there and he said, "If I had to crawl to be here, I would." As I sat at the graduation looking upward, hoping he was getting to see his cherished boys graduating, I heard the words: "If I had to crawl to be here, I would." It still brings tears.
Afterward, we went out to a nice dinner at a Japanese restaurant, one of those places where the chef cooks at the table while juggling the food, the knives and anything else he can get his hands on. The highlights included embarassing the boys by having the waitstaff parade around singing "Happy Birthday" with the maitre d' leading them wearing a dragon head, and listening to my father-in-law, speaking loudly and slowly, trying to order a Beefeater martini on the rocks from a waiter who barely spoke English. I have no idea what he ended up getting, but it didn't look much like a martini.
Now, those two little babies - the ones we once struggled to get two-ounce bottles of formula into and who now take down small mountains of pizza, mac-and-cheese, and all the other basic teenage food groups - prepare to go off on their own and make their way in a brave new world of responsibility and independence. (I speak, of course, about them going to their first Bon Jovi concert, though I suppose college is kind of a big deal too.) The pride, fulfillment, and faith I'm feeling in the future of the world are more than I have words to express. It will be an adjustment for us in September when they're living on campus, I think more so for a father who generally doesn't get to spend as much time with them over the years as a mother does. I'm hoping to keep my mind off the sudden quiet by keeping busy with household projects like converting their room into a hot tub.
I've often fretted for the future of the world, especially now that our president has declared the new Russian president is a "smart man who understands the issues," thereby giving the Russians two big advantages over us. The men and women of the Class of 2008 really do leave me hopeful for the slowing down of the descent of this handbasket we're in. In particular, I've enjoyed reading the quotes some of the graduates selected for their yearbook to memorialize where they feel they are at this touchstone moment. As one of the students quoted J.K. Rowling, "It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." From the Class of 2008 come these fine selections:
"Never make someone a priority when all you are is their option."
"In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: surely God has appointed the one as well as the other." (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
"Ask me about my vow of silence."
"Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards."
"I do not fear a man who has practiced 10,000 kicks only once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. (Bruce Lee)"
"To love is to risk not being loved in return, but risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing at all." (Leo Buscaglia)
"The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese."
"He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which." (Douglas Adams)
"Being uncomfortable is one of the secrets of the universe."
Take heart, dear readers. I've seen the future, and it's looking up. On the left, the future at 9 years old. On the right, at 18 years, as well as the past or present or something at an age we won't discuss...