Thinking Out Loud

February 19, 2018

When the Cries Bring About Change

Heather Booth is a professional book editor. On the weekend, she tweeted out a rather remarkable story and I quickly sent the link to several people I know who are connected to major media because I wanted to help “get this story out there.” Then, on Sunday morning it occurred to me that Thinking Out Loud is also media, maybe not major media, but instead of asking others to share this story, I could be part of making it happen.

I have a thing to say about growing up after tragedy. When I was a senior in high school, seven of my classmates were killed and 24 injured. It was an awful day full of fear, confusion, and pain. Press swarmed. News helicopters hovered overhead all day filming footage of the carnage.

Nothing made sense. Over the days and weeks that followed, we went to vigils, wakes, and funerals. We openly wept in the hallways. People who had never spoken before embraced, clinging to each other. We felt broken.

People said the things that are being said now. “I put him on the bus and sent him to school. He was supposed to be safe.” Classrooms were rearranged so the empty desks weren’t a constant reminder.

Time passed. We started living with loss, but we still startled at the noises that reminded us of that day. We were now people that THIS had happened to.

More time passed. I did the memorial layout in the yearbook. By then, our shock and raw pain had changed to anger and questioning. Why did this happen? What went wrong? Whose fault is it? Investigations, we learned, were ongoing.

A federal official said, “The thing that upsets me most–we teach our kids to learn the importance of accountability. In this, there was a failure of accountability by a number of organizations.”

And then, things changed.

29 recommendations were made by the NTSB and implemented from the local to federal level. Because this wasn’t a shooting. It was a train hitting a school bus. One train. One bus. Seven deaths. 24 injured. One year. 29 changes for 16 organizations.

And as kids, here’s what this meant: we saw something awful happen, then we saw adults support us, then we saw them make change happen to keep that awful thing from ever happening again. Now, I’m an adult who grew up having seen adults fix things.

Think about the worldview we create for youth when their awful experiences result in nothing but hand wringing and despair. Thoughts and prayers. When a tragedy hits that’s far more deadly and far less accidental than what Cary-Grove High School experienced in 1995 and nothing changes?

What kind of lifelong scars do we inflict on youth when the adults who are there to protect them don’t force change in the wake of preventable tragedy? What kind of foundation do we lay when their world breaks and no one fixes it?

I don’t care which avenue you pursue to change the scourge of gun violence against youth. There are plenty. Pick one. Do something. Call your reps. Donate. March. Volunteer. Vote. Force the issue. Empower teens. Don’t let them down. Make change happen.


Story reference:

Chicago Tribune: October 30, 1996.

To repeat, “One year. 29 changes for 16 organizations.” Changes were made to ensure that this type of thing would never happen again. Adults responded to protect children. Need we say more?

I am not aware if Heather has a particular faith-connection or if she does not. I felt this was worth sharing today irrespective of our usual considerations.

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February 15, 2018

To Our American Friends, Again

You can’t fix this.

I’m sorry, but the intricacies of your political system have painted you into a corner and now you are trapped and can’t get out.

You will never fix this.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but try to imagine a scenario or series of scenarios that would result in enacting, for example, a repeal of the 2nd Amendment. It’s just not possible.

You, as a nation, don’t have the political will to fix this.

The system is broken and all your politicians know this. It’s a given that is whispered in hushed corridors of power, while the external message is, “Thoughts and prayers.”

…Just over five years ago, in December of 2012, I wrote the first “To Our American Friends” article. At that time I earnestly believed with all my heart that the U.S. had had a wake-up call and would start the conversation that would result in social and constitutional change. I wrote:

…Please accept our heartfelt sympathies.

Even though we’re close neighbors, we don’t fully understand the U.S. gun culture that is part of the DNA of those with whom we share this continent. And before we start to sound judgmental, we don’t always get it right up here, either; neither have we been immune to gun violence.

But we don’t think the framers of the U.S. constitution had yesterday in mind when they drafted the 2nd Amendment. Rather, I think they would be appalled, provided they were not completely bewildered trying to process where things presently stand.

This is only going to get worse. And worse and worse…

In June of 2015, I quoted President Obama:

“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.” – President Obama

Does he really believe “it’s in our power to do something?” By October of the same year, the President’s tone had changed. It was more a lament. I wrote at the time,

President Obama went on television for the 16th time in his presidency and said, “Somehow, this is becoming routine.”

Gun advocates say that people need to have guns to defend themselves, but where are the headlines where a mass shooting was aborted because some civilian took out the shooter?

Again, it’s not my place to comment on the laws of another country. But know this: To those of us outside what Pope Francis reminded Americans is called “The land of the free,” we don’t believe the authors of the U.S. Constitution had days like these in view. Not for a moment.

It certainly is “The home of the brave.” You’d have to be brave, to leave your house in the morning not knowing if you’ll be having supper with your family at night.

Today, I have a different message.

You need to get out.

You need to get out before you’re next.

If traveling through Europe last summer taught us anything, it taught us that geography or place of birth need no longer limit the trajectory of a person’s life. Especially our last two days, as we got to know Prague in the Czech Republic, we remarked a few times, “We could live here.” We could easily envision ourselves uprooting from friends and family and starting an entirely new life in an entirely new place.

And so could you.

English is widely spoken. You’d want to learn the local language, but you would be amazed at how much you can get by in the world with English.

The places are sophisticated. Many have innovations in education, medical services and consumer technology that have not yet become commonplace in the United States.

Your skills as a teacher, mechanic, IT worker, nurse, editor, contractor, dietician, etc. are transferable.

Think about it.

Book a trip. Book it now, before summer while the rates are lower.

If you have a passport in a country that is part of the British Commonwealth, consider England, Australia, or New Zealand. Otherwise, start subscribing to website bulletins posting jobs in Europe. If you speak a foreign language, all the better. You won’t be 100% safe; some of these countries have issues with terrorism, but you will be safer. So will your kids.

You need to get out.

There’s no other solution.

I’m sorry.

 

 

November 6, 2017

Five Letters America Needs to Write

To the American People;

While those who helped form and shape of our country had nothing but our best interests in mind, time has shown us that upon internal investigation and when seen through the eyes of the world, one aspect of one of our founding documents is presently flawed. Therefore, acting as we would under emergency measures in a wartime situation, our upper and lower houses of government need to immediately suspend all other activity and work in a bipartisan manner toward the immediate suspension and repeal of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, including the clear stating of its antithesis, namely that there is no further blanket right to bear arms.

To the members of the National Rifle Association (and other similar special interest groups);

Your financial contributions to citizens seeking to hold elected office have enlivened political campaigns and helped form a robust political process, creating an environment allowing aspiring politicians to spend millions in order to have their message and agenda reach the electorate. Unfortunately, history will show that such action clouded the judgement of these legislators, even to the point where the perceived needs of some people undermine the principles of a democracy that serves the broader populace. Because your organization enshrines a constitutional right that is being repealed, we must ask that in the interim such campaign funding immediately cease and desist, as all forms of election campaign funding undergoes sweeping reevaluation.

To State and local governments;

America must change. It would be preposterous to suspend the former 2nd Amendment, only to have state, county or municipal governments reenact it or reinstate it in some form. A reworded constitution will clearly state no state laws will provide the citizenry with a fundamental right to weapon ownership, and existing statutes which are based on the former right will be similarly repealed or rewritten.

To the Educators of the United States;

In the spirit of what the constitutional framers stated as forming “a more perfect union;” American public education needs to be amended to include the teaching of ethics as a core curriculum subject; one given equal weight to subjects such as English, History, Geography, Mathematics, and Science; with successful completion necessary to educational advancement. The subject matter will be age-appropriate and run through elementary, middle school and high school grades and be compatible with common ethics, morals and values; and provide a compendium of teaching reflecting major religious and philosophical perspectives; but also annually incorporating a unit on the ethical basis for the value of human life.

To the manufacturers of guns and similar weaponry;

Because maintaining the status quo was no longer an option, as the 2nd Amendment is repealed, we as a nation we have no other option than to intervene in the manufacture, distribution and marketing of non-military weapons, and to move such products to a highly restricted status which immediately precludes any further increase to the available national supply.


Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. Jeremiah 9:1


Will any of the above letters ever be written? I fear they won’t. The United States is now effectively broken beyond remedy.

October 3, 2017

Now: Las Vegas; Tomorrow: Anytown

Exactly two years ago we said to ourselves, ‘Surely this will be the last mass shooting.’

I had a couple of different directions I was heading for today’s blog post, but I feel as if not devoting some space here to the events of the last 48 hours in Las Vegas is somehow dismissive or insensitive.

I’m not sure that every person with a WordPress, Twitter or Facebook account weighing in on this is any way helpful, but I find this morning I cannot do otherwise.

I’ve already voiced my opinions here and here about the perplexing situation of viewing America’s “right to bear arms” from a distance; from one country removed. And I’ve tried to choose some of the better comments of the last 24 hours to post on my Twitter account. (Sign up not needed to view.)

I think back to the photograph above, and how we all thought, surely this will bring about change. The optimist in me still wants to believe this, but the forces for gun rights (groups like the NRA and others) are the U.S. is simply too powerful and too influential for change to happen. So the pessimist in me becomes the dominant voice: ‘They can’t change. They won’t change.’

Honestly, from a distance I think we who live elsewhere simply sit back and wait for the United States to implode. This can’t go on. It can’t continue.

To victims and families: I share your ache this day. I am so sorry for both losses and life-altering injuries. So sorry for all who witnessed this firsthand and will live with the PTSD of that forever.

To the rest of my American readers I can only say, Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy upon us.


“They will beat their swords into plowshares…”

October 2, 2015

God Bless Help America

Umpqua Community College Shooting

I had originally mentally sketched out another article here in the wake of the Kelly Gissendaner story. As someone writing from another country, it’s not my place to comment on the U.S. justice system except for those times I can bring the perspective of how I feel the story plays out in other countries. I’m not sure that Americans really have a clue how their nation in perceived outside its borders — something about not seeing the forest for the trees comes to mind — unless they (a) have traveled widely overseas or (b) have made a concerted effort to follow U.S. stories in foreign media.

I guess the thing that confounded those of us looking through the window from the outside was the reporting that this woman had not actually carried out the murder that brought about her sentence, nor was she even present, but the life of the man who did the actual killing would be spared the death penalty because he struck a plea bargain deal with the judiciary.

The problem was that I turned to Twitter the next day only to learn that another state had another execution scheduled, and a third state had something scheduled later in the week. I thought about the statistics that the world’s largest prison population is in the United States which also has the highest incarceration rate per 100K population; and then thought about the U.S. gun laws that seem so bizarre to people from other countries. Apparently, at both ends of the spectrum, life is cheap.

But alas, I need to stop here. This is not the time, because once again there has been another school shooting, this time south of Portland, Oregon. President Obama went on television for the 16th time in his presidency and said, “Somehow, this is becoming routine.”

In other words, ‘This is becoming normal.’ The new normal. Obama then again called for changes to gun laws. “This is a political choice that we make to allow this happen every few months in America… We collectively have to answer to those families.”

Mass shooting #294. In only 274 days. More than one per day. (Defined as incidents where four or more people are killed by gunfire.) As I write this on Thursday night, 10 people are dead and 20 injured. Lives cut short. Families shattered.

Gun advocates say that people need to have guns to defend themselves, but where are the headlines where a mass shooting was aborted because some civilian took out the shooter?

Again, it’s not my place to comment on the laws of another country. But know this: To those of us outside what Pope Francis reminded Americans is called “The land of the free,” we don’t believe the authors of the U.S. Constitution had days like these in view. Not for a moment.

It certainly is “The home of the brave.” You’d have to be brave, to leave your house in the morning not knowing if you’ll be having supper with your family at night.

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