When I send off a column to my editor in time for uploading on Tuesday mornings, I almost immediately begin mulling over what next week’s submission should be. My thoughts for this particular column had veered toward a light-hearted entry, perhaps some silly musings over the Mayan prediction that the world will end on December 21, 2012.
Yes, at the time, silly seemed appropriate. I might have called it “Hedging Your Bets” and its content would have been along the lines of: “No need to stick to that diet, the world is ending soon!” “Haven’t started Christmas shopping yet? Fear not, for Christmas this year will not occur.” “Worried about the fiscal cliff? Don’t be!” And so on.
Then, as the events of last week unfolded, such a column seemed out of the question.
First, as most of you know, Belmont lost a resident last week. (Perhaps not just one, but one that I know of.) Dan’s exit from the world felt jarringly and disturbingly sudden. While I did not know him well and had only met him briefly at a school event, I do know his wife well. I also know from experience that his departure will leave an indelible hole in the lives of all those who loved him.
The outpouring of support and love for Dan’s family was swift and generous. The community seemed to collectively express that it will be there for this family, a family that has given so much to this town. The message resounded loudly and clearly: you are not alone, you will be tenderly cared for, we will see you through this awfulness in all the ways possible for a community to do so.
And then, appalling dreadfulness unfolded on Friday afternoon from our neighbors to the south, compounding and exacerbating the sadness that many of us were already feeling. Much has been written since the news from Newtown unfurled in the aftermath of this catastrophe. There are the expected cries for gun control reform, for better access to mental health services, and for improved school security systems.
These demands are valid and rational and sane. And yet I struggle with a hopelessness that any meaningful changes will occur.
The proliferation of guns in our country has long horrified and frightened me. As if the founding fathers had any notion of endorsing the mass proliferation of semi-automatic machine guns whose sole purpose is to murder quickly as many people as possible. Most of us accept the ownership of a rifle for those who live in hunting country and maybe the acquisition of a handgun for those who feel they need the safety of this device although I’ll be honest and say I doubt handguns make us any safer ...). But I know of no one who supports laypeople owning semi-automatic assault weapons.
And yet, it is possible to legally acquire these weapons of mass murder.
As for better access to mental health care, it’s frustratingly difficult for those in need to receive even some coverage for the care they need. Those of us who are fortunate to have health insurance continue to pay far more money only to receive far fewer benefits. This is hard to swallow when insurance company CEOs continue to collect seven figure salaries.
As for improved school security, where oh where will the money come from? Yes, when Lanza bashed in the window, this should have tripped an alarm to the Newtown Police Department, saving a few precious minutes of response time. But our schools face budget challenges year after year after year. When expenses rise at about five percent and we are allowed, in this state anyway, to raise taxes at 2.5 percent – we experience a gap each year that is often closed by cutting services. Things are no better at the state level and we know what is being reckoned with at the federal level.
How then will additional money be allocated to better securing our schools when we struggle to even maintain the same quality of education from year to year? But perhaps better security isn’t the answer. Perhaps we just need to treat the sickest among us and make it harder for them to purchase and wield semi-automatic assault weapons.
As I sit here writing, and alternately weeping, the rain outside is falling steadily and frigidly. The lyrics from one of my favorite Christmas songs, this one by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, keep resounding in my head.
They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth,
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the virgin's birth
I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year,
All anguish, pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
Alas, no silly column this week.
But, allow me to wish you a brave new year.