I don’t have children. I realized two things a long time ago (I believe I was 5 or 6 years old, actually, when I had this epiphany): (1) I am a selfish only child who must work hard to put others’ needs above her own, and (2) I get so worked up over having responsibility for animals that I cannot even imagine trying to protect a child.
I think of all the stupid things I did as a child, teenager and young adult and shudder to think how many sleepless nights my parents spent. My mother had the poison control hotline number written down next to every phone in the house as well as the antidotes to some common poisoning hazards (laundry detergent, perfume, talcum powder, to name a few). I was injured so often doing daredevil moves – trying to keep up with the older kids in the neighborhood – that our doctor made house calls for us because he felt sorry for my parents.
I was returned home twice by the police before the age of 6; having decided to walk home from school one day in the middle of a fire drill (nothing like being a teacher, counting heads, and realizing that one 6-year-old blonde head is missing) and having decided to have an adventure by sneaking off after school in the opposite direction from where my mom was waiting for me. I’m not certain this is true, but my mom claimed that she gave my school photo (mug shot) to the security offices of several major department stores in downtown Cleveland because I wandered away and got lost so often while my parents were shopping that she wanted them to recognize me if they saw me.
The one fear my parents never had about me growing up is that I would be killed by a madman while I was at school. Things like that didn’t happen back then and certainly never would have happened at a school like Beach Elementary.
Things like that do happen now, but I’m sure the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., today never believed it would happen at their school. Who could even imagine such horror? Why would anyone ever want to do such a thing, murder nearly 30 people, including many children? Why? Why? Why?
But then, why would someone walk into a packed, festive mall and open fire on strangers, or open fire in a crowded movie theater?
We can argue all day about the causes of these horrors. It won’t bring the victims back. It will never restore a sense of security to those who were left alive. Mental illness, mental depravity, mental breakdown… Does it matter?
I told someone recently, “You can’t plan for crazy.” Maybe not, but it’s time we had some serious discussions in this country about violent crime and violent actions and violent threats. Very few of these things happen in a vacuum. After the fact, people often say they knew the perpetrators were having problems or had threatened some type of violent act. Hate speech often leads to hate crimes. Violent threats often lead to violent acts. We’ve seen that with workplace bullies who escalate into violent confrontations with coworkers or supervisors.
As children, we’re taught to mind our own business; no one likes a tattletale. But we also are told that we are our brother’s keeper. So which is it? Is it better to invade someone’s privacy and be wrong – embarrassing ourselves and them or worse – or is it better to ignore someone who’s struggling in the hopes that he or she will find help elsewhere? I won’t lie; I’ve averted my eyes from people who clearly were mentally unstable and walked away as quickly as possible. And I’ve ignored people at work who had some pretty obvious issues, privately rolling my eyes and praying I didn’t end up being targeted by them.
I don’t know the answers. I don’t even know how to start the conversation. But it’s a conversation that as a society, we need to have. For our sake, and the sake of our children.
Please hug your children tight tonight. Please give them an extra hug from me.