Shining a Light on Newtown; A Different Perspective
Almost every blogger did a post about Newtown; every blogger except me. It certainly wasn't because I wasn't sorrowful and affected like the rest of the US, but I just wasn't sure where to start. While the nation grieved, I thought about myself and my own family. It was a selfish thing, but let me explain. You see, my family was affected by a school shooting back before school shootings were all the rage, literally.
My uncle Carl's sister-in-law, Deanna McDavid, was shot in the head, killed by one of her students as the other students watched in utter disbelief. I'm sure unless you are related to me or you happened to be from the area, you didn't even know about this incident. It was big news, being one of the first school shootings, but there was no immediate media hype like today, no instant Internet blitz to alert the world that my family bubble had been burst.
It happened in the sleepy little town where I visited my dad's family on a regular basis over my forty-three years; my grandma, two aunts, and two uncles, my cousins, and extended families. Even though Deanna was on my uncle's wife's side of the family, I spent time with them growing up. Deanna's kids were my cousin's age and I spent a lot of time with my aunt Betty (Deanna's sister) and uncle Carl and I have been blessed to know them. They are outgoing, spirited, and kind. They have endured unspeakable tragedy.
When I heard about the shooting at Newtown, I suppose it hit me in a different way than most. Frankly, I found myself less upset than most and if you know me, that would surprise you. I am easy to cry. Yes, it was tragic. The sheer number involved and the fact that they were children was heartbreaking, but the truth is that I had "been there, done that" nearly twenty years ago. That sounds terrible, but if you have trouble wondering why people react in certain ways to certain things, perhaps this article will shed some light for you.
Am I hardened? Not necessarily. I remember being very affected by Columbine and the Virginia Tech shootings. I vividly remember watching TV coverage of Virginia Tech and bawling like a baby. I remember choking back tears as I told my boyfriend's young son about Columbine and then soaking up the media details, trying to understand.
Most people want to understand why and how someone could do such a thing. Now, years later, there are plenty of articles on the Internet about the shooting at East Carter High School where my aunt's sister and a custodian were killed. One article I read stated that he didn't have a beef with Deanna, but he wanted to kill two random people so that he would be eligible for the death penalty. His logic didn't work. He remains in jail to this day.
Did you know there have been 386 school shootings since 1992? Here's a website with statistics Stop The Shootings and I must be honest, I had no idea there were that many. Not all involved fatalities. Does this make them any less impactful?
No, the incidents were tragic in each case, I'm sure. Not all involved children or teachers being shot. Not all involved a troubled teen saying to one of my family members, "Shut up, bitch," and then carrying out his own version of a death sentence on her just one day before her 49th birthday.
As a writer, this story is personal for me in more ways than one. Deanna was an English teacher. Prior to killing her, Gary Scott Pennington had turned in writing assignments with content that concerned her and she had given him a C grade which he thought might affect his college prospects. His killing method was eerily based on Stephen King's novel (published under a pseudonym), Rage, about a student who kills his teacher in front of students -- in Kentucky, no less. Coincidence? It's debatable. The things Gary Scott Pennington said in his shooting were eerily similar, but in life, I've had eerie coincidences more than a few times. There is reporting to say that he read it before the killings and reporting to say that he didn't.
Can writing influence action among a readership? Certainly! This would not be the first time King's story was connected to a school shooting, nor would it be the last. Do I blame Stephen King for Deanna's murder? No way. That would be stupid. I used to be a huge Stephen King fan. I am no killer, nor do I use it as a springboard for my own twisted mind, but some do.
I don't blame his writing as a tool of destruction any more than I blame the gun. It is the person behind it who remains ultimately responsible. Had it not been a story idea or an availability of guns, he would have found another way to express his mental state of frustration. Perhaps a bomb or a knife would have been the weapon of choice. He would have found some thing, some way, some awful end to make his point stick in the collective mind.
Here are a few articles about the crime:
People Magazine: Reading, Writing and Murder
US News: The Tragedy in Room 108 (Thank you, Jerry Buckley, for allowing me to get to know her even better through your great writing).
I didn't watch much coverage on Newtown and the tragedy at Sandy Hook. I give the victims the honor they deserve, lives lost too soon, but I refuse to let fear and depression grip me and keep me in its hold where my life is concerned. I just won't do it. Why? I've wasted too much time with that sort of focus in the past and it did me no good. Rather, it was detrimental. I smile and laugh, not out of insensitivity and denial, but in the face of the devil. He won't have me. He can't have me... unless I allow it.
After the most recent school shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook, I posted on a humor thread about the appropriateness of using humor again after tragedy and got the following response from a man who put things into a different perspective when he replied:
"...as for me, I learned this news just 10 minutes back from Humor Writers! I am exactly on the opposite side of the globe... partly, the result of not being able to afford to live in the U.S. any longer, and met no one who told me this. I would have had to meet an American, no Cambodian would consider this to be news. Now when 350 people died here because of the collapse of a bridge, that was news. I think that gives a sense of perspective. We feel the loss of those close to us, but tragedy from a distance does not touch us. ???"
Wow, he is so right! It really hit me, that particular sentence, "no Cambodian would consider this to be news." It's all about what we're exposed to on a regular basis. Is the school shooting more tragic than genocide? Deaths in hurricane Katrina? Lives lost when the Titanic went down?
These children killed at Sandy Hook are a sad reminder that tragedy happens and our children are not safe. However, it did not make me hug my children tighter, tell them I love them more, or get up in arms about gun control. It simply reminded me that every day is a quiet blessing and if you are treating them any differently than you did the day before, you are doing them a disservice.
You should be hugging them every day as though today could be the last. I've already learned in life that the tragedy can be you, your neighbor, your cousin, your friend, or your child. It can happen in a thousand different ways. Illness, accidents, tragic circumstances or whatever, it can all be over in the blink of an eye. So do we cease to blink? No, we learn to keep one eye open and see more clearly between blinks, that's all.
As I engaged in my 2012 Christmas rituals with my husband and children yesterday, my thoughts drifted to the families and community of Newtown and I realized how blessed I am. I am between tragedies. Will they happen again in my lifetime? You can be sure of it. Am I better prepared? Never. But I am gaining new perspectives throughout my years and that helps me to see things in different light. In the darkest days, I sometimes need that light.
I choose to use that light to celebrate the lives of those lost and not mourn for too long. Those I have loved and lost would never want to see me grieve long-term. It's so destructive. Long-term grief and anger eat away the very fibers of faith, love, and happiness and pull your focus to the dark side. I've lost much in my lifetime and have only begun to hint at it in my writing. I've learned much about keeping a light on in the process.
My light burns for you tonight, your little ones, your mothers and fathers, your friends, and even your enemies. Remember, you can be a Stephen King kind of Shining, or a Shining light of your own design. The choice is up to you. Please share how you shine in the light of this tragedy in your unique way. Have you instilled hope in your children? Comforted a friend? Helped someone cope with it all? I'd like to hear from you.