Stop looking to the past for answers to school shootings.
The ability to breathe has been taken away from me. That’s not a nod to the poetic, I have physically lost my breath, overwhelmed… again.
The smiles can only be seen in pictures, the joys of friendship are just memories now. The accumulation of too many mistakes, too many wrong turns, and too much indifference, cannot bring any kind of right to this atrocity of culture, this apathy of cause and effect.
I shouldn’t be feeling this way, I should know what to do and how to cope with this, but I don’t, I can’t. I am at once infuriated beyond reason, and humbled beyond my sensibilities, no, please no… I shouldn’t have to comprehend that sending young people to school involves a crap shoot on the chances of picking them up later in the day, alive and well, without lifelong trauma. I shouldn’t have my breath taken away in sincere admiration, and sense of honor I feel for these heroic young people. I shouldn’t have to stay away from words like student, teens, and children, because none of those are accurate. These young people have a harder world to navigate, more reality than is cared, or asked for, and a need for a security that they will likely never see.
In the height of the Cold War years ago, the angst and animosity was on the big red scare, communism. The Soviet Union was the bad guys to teenagers like myself. Popular movies like Rocky IV and Red Dawn pumped in just enough nationalism into the blood streams to keep military recruitment at a working level. Even during these times, thoughts and plans of sorts were in the back of more than one good ol’ boy’s mind to thwart any terrorist threat or enemy takeover of our institutions. In that childhood we had our imaginations running wild with us, today the wild is running us, and running us over. The word threat has even changed its intoned level of misery. They are made daily, real ones that carry very real, and intoned consequences. To young people, today is not the stuff of make believe though, not a carryover emotion from a major motion picture. The seeds of this festered societal wound could very well be sewn in that Cold War era, carried over by that mindset. We either lost a way entirely, or changed our path to such a degree that we find ourselves now in a cultural emergency room, on life support.
The tears that flow come from the same place I hold those of the highest honor. The fury that comes is as raw as my inner voice, my outer voice left with my breath. The name Kendrick Castillo rings out and my heart skips a beat, Riley Howell’s then feels like a cannonball to the gut. The list goes on, and so does the emotional wreckage, the fetal position of input overload. The twenty-twenty vision of hindsight on this problem is myopic at best, and our collective cataracts routinely need to be cleared. The list is long on who to blame, what is the cause, what this or that means? In trying to figure it all out, a saying keeps coming back to me; “You can’t take care of anyone, or anything else if you don’t take care of yourself first.” Culturally awash with people avoiding mirrors in their lives because they are too busy polishing the outside of their garbage cans.
Those young people, those who people call heroes, they are all of that, and they are tragically more. They are the sacrifice that we cultivated, taken by the neglected that didn’t just go away. The 0.03% of the casualty equation tied to the ninety percent of the mental illness equation. The list is long, the gun culture, the lack of mental health access, poverty, and bullying. The list comes with people to blame, groups to demonize and marginalize, and appendices to levels of fault…add infinitum. Somewhere near the very bottom of that list, in very small print from the looks of it, is the line about cleaning the inside of the garbage cans. Because in all honesty, this reeks.
The blame, the blood on our own hands, is washed in more blood with every single bullet spent, and life lost. The lost opportunities of changes along the way, course corrections, held hostage by a minority through fraud and misinformation, threats and legalese. The experts in every field of study reply with almost knee jerk automation to what is wrong, what is missing, what should have been. While ignoring what is there, what should be, what’s our part? Any list on the ills of society on this cultural wrong turn, or that misguided belief, begins with the one who is writing said list. The dysfunctionality of this civilization model comes into clear focus when it is realized that is not the way it is done here. The thinking about our part is solidly in last place, and lost in the fine print.
I grew up with Vietnam on TV every night, the images of the wounded and killed were there for me to see with everyone else. We changed when war was brought into our living rooms, and as many asked for it to never happen again, there was a lust in the hearts of others. The young people of today don’t know our past, what the world was like, or the feelings that most all got after 9/11. They know wars and divisiveness, racial tensions and school shootings, this is their reality, don’t give them any crap about your past because that is how we got here. Apparently the very best of our past has left this generation unemployed, under-educated, and with less than a tenth of a glass of water to spend on hope to make it through to adulthood. Toss in the racial divide that they don’t really understand or accept for the most part, unless they are trained or taught to be against things and well… they get it. They get this whole humanity business, they understand it better than their parents and all of the adults combined. They know what they needand what the world is going to need, but we keep on trying to stop time. To try to bend it backwards, in an attempt to get a mulligan that is just never going to appear.
Their world is that of force, with a patina of hardness because their experiences dictate it. Their parents either hovering wannabe gods to their children, or shepherds that let the flock go out and the world to train. There are plenty in between, but they too are usually being pulled quickly into one camp or the other by either choice or circumstance. Just like the closing of the nineteenth century, a whole generation of young people were left to work in the mines and fields, and nobody has come for them yet.
Today it is those sad faces of the young we don’t see anymore, they are too focused on the next heartache, the next shooting, and the next suicide. The world they were born into doesn’t have a place for them all, or a plan on how to grow them that doesn’t involve paying for their parents past mistakes. They are more and more in their safer place behind a few doors with a screen in front of them, but as we all know that world is not safe either. So stuck between the real world and the electronic one, it’s no wonder they don’t want to pick a side, any side, in any of this. The things we produced before are no longer relevant in this time frame, in this world. Our best efforts got us here and our young are now laughing at us from their death beds.
The sacrificed young lives, they did not do this on their own accord. They do include the shooters, the suspects, and the victims, they are all players in this modern blood-sport. This version where adults play with the lives of the young, ignore the cries of the victims themselves, and parlay a lust for some kind of belief in protection over the knowledge of the facts. That is the real truth here, the inside of the garbage can truth that people can’t hold their breath long enough to clean out. That rot has grown, and has eaten its way through the can, the shiny finish can’t ever get back to what it used to be. Repair that dull spot, more thoughts and prayers brand wax, close the lid because we can’t stand the stench. We can’t stand to look at our mistakes, our house of cards egos couldn’t stand even a moment of pressure. The mere weight of a playing card of inner searching would bring us to our emotional, and physical knees. I shouldn’t feel this way, but I do, and in all honesty I should feel this way, this wasn’t the future, or the present I had in mind. This wasn’t the way I was raised, or believe, but it is the way it is. No vision or version of my past can ever be made of this, because my past made this. My mistakes, greed, consumption, and ignorance made all of this. I should feel this way alright, because Kendrick Castillo, and Riley Howell cannot any longer, the young who lost their lives in all of the tragedies no longer can.
It is hard to think about a future, look out at long term goals anymore, when the painting of that future is not only an eyesore, but one that leaves you physically ill. One that takes your breath away, and kicks you repeatedly in the gut. A future that will be created not only from our past, but those that we have sacrificed through self-serving actions and inaction’s. The arbitrary guidelines of how to grow young people into machine programs, what this and that means to us, while excluding what it means to them. This is the best that we can do. This is not on anybody else, because this is apparently the best society, the best way of life, this is our past right now coming to fruition, young people shot… in classrooms… often…
In a world that is continuously escaping the grasp of the adults, it is high time we ask the young as to what is going on? Their honesty is today, their facts of life are about today, and their tomorrows. There are more generations between parent and child than we understand at present. The very idea that older generations had the ability, money and power to do something about many of our ills and sat and let them fester? That kind of thinking is not going to go over well with any generation, that kind of scorched Earth policy will leave just that. So why should they trust the adults? Why should they get behind our ideas and our ways of life when they obviously don’t work? They don’t, and we don’t have the answers they need to hear anymore. We have thoroughly broken the planet and the systems of government that is meant to unite us. We have carelessly thrown, and grown our young people into martyrs of their parents failings. This is not your world any longer, it is theirs. It is their present, and their future, and it is most certainly not your past.