Friday, December 14, 2012

Of school shootings, pompous asses, and humanity

I have three children, aged fourteen, twelve, and five. The youngest is in kindergarten. She loves her school, her classmates, and her teachers. It's one of the most magical periods in life, the early years of schooling. Every day is full of promise, likely to have moments of wonder and joy, along with some of sadness and pain. My daughter troops into class every day, gets her chair, hangs up her back-pack (Hello Kitty), and takes out her homework. She puts the last in the proper place by the teacher's desk, returns to her table and then usually puts out her table-mates' journals.

I watch this routine from the doorway, blow her a kiss, and say goodbye, with a promise to see her soon. From there, school begins in earnest, as parents make their way out of the school. When I pick her up at the end of the school day, I get a play by play of the day's activities and events. Always thrilling, both for her and for me, as her eyes are--more often than not--bright with happiness and satisfaction.

But one recent day had one of those moments of sadness and pain I mentioned above. Nothing all that tragic in the grand scheme of things and--in the balance--a fine and positive experience. I picked her up as usual and she immediately informed me of a "big problem." Apparently, she and another child in her class--a very cute little boy whom I had met previously--collided on the playground. My daughter's head and the boy's lip were the points of impact. She explained to me that it hurt "a lot" and that "there was blood." The teacher even had to take the boy to the office for treatment.

As we walked to my car, we came upon this same boy waiting for his bus. He had a pack of ice on his face and I could see his seriously fat lower lip, along with some dried blood around it. I said hi and asked him if he was okay, while my daughter waved to him meekly. What he said (worth remembering):
It still hurts a lot. I'm just glad [my daughter] wasn't hurt bad.
Later, the school security guard--who makes sure the little ones get to the right buses from their classrooms--told me that this little boy told her the very same story about his accident: he was "glad the girl wasn't hurt."

My daughter gave him a brief hug goodbye and when we returned to school on Monday (this had been a Friday), the boy was in fine shape and both he and my daughter went about their usual business. The teacher also gave me the same story about the accident, no one's fault, some tears, some blood, both children worried about the other.

I've been clinging to this memory throughout the day, in the wake of the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, where some twenty young children were gunned down in their classrooms, along with teachers and other school employees. Those children--apparently, most were Kindergartners--were no different than my child and her classmates. Innocent, wonder-filled, ready to experience life, and more than capable of empathy, kindness, and honor.

They were, in a real sense, better people than most of us, than adults throughout this land and every other. Why? Because they were less tainted by the often callous, cruel, and selfish behavior adults engage in far too easily and far too often. And we all know this to be true. We weep for their innocence, with the knowledge that they are the better part of us. President Obama rightly addressed the nation today, displaying a great deal of emotion--for him--as he wiped away tears. And he was completely sincere in my opinion.

I wish I could say the same for some of the people in the media charged with covering this tragedy. I'll not name names nor provide specifics, but anyone who watched cable news for more than five minutes this afternoon knows exactly what I'm talking about. People with absolutely nothing significant to say went on camera to offer little rants about their disgust, outrage, and sadness. Others offered third-person psychoanalysis about a person they never knew and a situation they did not witness, about which details were still emerging. Children from the school were paraded in front of the camera in order to talk about how they heard the gunshots or ran from the school, interviews that maybe garnered an "awwww" from some viewers, but really were wholly unnecessary.

And I know, I just know, that some of these talking heads are hoping this story really makes their careers. They're probably eagerly pouring over twitter feeds and internet searches in hopes of finding people mentioning their names or quoting what they said.

And you know, if there is one thing that is drastically different about our current world than that of one hundred or even fifty years ago, it's this: the widespread need to be noticed, the democratization of fame. Expect another post on that theme in the very near future.

For now, I mourn this senseless loss of life, even as I rejoice in the glorious potential of our children, and despise what that potential sometimes becomes.

Godspeed, little ones.