A Parable For Today


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Once there was a village. It was deep in the forest, in a place filled with trees and grasses and beautiful birds.

The people of the village worked hard, but they had a good life. There was enough food and there were safe places to sleep.

A stream ran through the village. It was clean and clear, but it was powerful, too. The people used the water to drink, to stay clean and to cool off on hot days. Every adult used the stream, and some of the kids learned to swim there.

As time went on, and the generations passed, the little village grew in size and prosperity. The settlement became a town, with paved roads and stores and groups of houses. The stream still ran through it, winding gently along the main street. Some people still used the water for everyday chores, although most people had plumbing in their houses by now.

The stream became a place for recreation and sport, but was no longer key to the survival of the townspeople. It was just a nice little relic of the past. A good place for picnics on hot summer days.

One day someone decided that it would be fun to dam up the water. He wanted to make a pool where people could not only fish, but also swim, dive and jump off the steep banks. It sounded like fun, and so it was done.

As the years passed, people got used to the pool and to the bigger, more powerful flow of water that moved through town below the dam. Some people used the pool but feared the faster stream. Some loved  all of the water and used it everyday.

Life went on.

A few more generations passed, and another water-user decided that it would be fun to narrow the flow of water below the dam. “It will go faster,” he thought, “It will have more power.” When he presented the idea to the townspeople, some told him that they thought the water was powerful enough already.

“We have water in our homes to drink and bathe. We have a pool for fun, and a quick running stream for excitement. Why would we need a more powerful flow of water?”

The water-user and his friends thought about this for a bit. They really wanted to play around with stronger, faster water. How could they convince people to let them have more a powerful water source to play with?

“I know!” said one water-user. “The water can protect us! If invaders come to our town, we can escape quickly on the fast moving stream!”

People are funny. Even though the town had never once been invaded in its entire history, the threat of war was enough to convince the leaders to invest in the narrower, stronger stream.

Little by little, year by year, the water-users of the town continued to work on the pool and the stream. Most people paid little attention to the changes that were made. They were busy with jobs and families and school and sports.

Slowly and steadily the water grew higher, faster and less controlled. It began to frighten people when two small children were swept to their deaths one winter evening. A few people suggested that it might be time to slow the water down. But many people enjoyed swimming in the pool, kayaking on the upper stream and even riding the white waters of the swift lower channel. So an argument broke out.

“Let’s not overreact,” they said. “We need the water for fun. And what would happen if the running water in our pipes ever stopped, or if dangerous invaders came through? We need our water! It’s our right to have this water!”

Heads nodded. Beards were stroked. Nothing was changed.

Every year that passed saw slight changes to the riverbed and the water’s flow.

And every year that passed saw more people dying from the increasingly powerful waters. At times of heavy rain, the lower stream would flood. Entire families were swept away, scooped right out of their beds by the raging torrent.

Now the people of the town began to complain to their leaders.

“We’re afraid of this water! It’s just too much. Something MUST be done!”

The leaders were confused, unsure of what to do. But the water-users offered to help.

“We know what to do” they said. “We will offer free swimming lessons to every person in town! We will sell fabulous water wings in the local stores.”

That quieted things down for a bit, and the demands to slow the water faded away. But not for long.

After a few more years,  the water-users had created waterfalls, rapids and even faster and narrower streams running through town.

“So much safety!!!” they cheered. “No invaders will ever be able to defeat us!”

Then one spring, without warning, the weather turned terrible and stormy. The rains fell for weeks on end. The waters in the pool rose ever higher. The stream below the dam became a raging, screaming whirlpool. Some people in town were terrified, but others found it exciting.

Exciting, that is, right up until the moment when the flood burst through its banks and smashed in all the windows at the nearby school. As the children screamed and drowned, all of the adults raced to the rescue. They cried as they pulled the drowning children through the broken glass. They treated the survivors with tenderness and care. They sobbed and they grieved as they buried the little ones who could not be saved.

They were united in their sorrow and in their determination to make the town a safer place. One grieving mother asked,

“Now should we do something to slow down the water? Now can we drain the pool?”

The town leaders and the water-users thought about it. They were just as sad as everyone else, but they weren’t ready to let go of their best defense against potential dangers. They weren’t ready to let go of all the fun that the water offered.

“How about if we rebuild the school so that it has no windows anymore?” they suggested. This would certainly take care of the problem of water breaking the windows.

The school was rebuilt without a single window. The children and the teachers went back in to recreate their learning space in the darkness. They huddled there in fear, but they hoped that the leaders were right and that now at last they were safe.

But one year the raging river flooded again, and this time it was the door that was broken. More children and teachers died.

Again, the town grieved and wept and swore to make things safer.

This time they bricked up all the doors and put a locked bulkhead on the roof to let the children and teachers in. Every morning, the children watched as their teachers pulled the bulkhead door open. Every morning, they climbed down into the darkness.

And when the bulkhead was swept away in the next flood, the town leaders gathered once again.

“Now what?” they asked the water-users. “Now how do we keep our children safe?”

This time they decided that every classroom should contain a boat. A special safety boat that would be deployed only in the event of another flood.

By now they knew that the river was out of control, that the cataract could not be contained, that the school would once again be hammered by the deadly force of the water.

They put their hope in the boats.

When one timid child asked why they didn’t try to slow the water instead of imprisoning the kids in a school filled with rising water, the leaders only patted her on the head and told her to leave it to the adults.

I know, I know. I am not subtle. And I’m clearly not a fiction writer. But today I watched America’s children marching out of their classrooms because they are terrified that they will be murdered in the place that should be the safest place in their lives. Some of them were babies, as young as third or fourth grade. They had tears on their cheeks. I watched, I sobbed, I paced. I am a mother, a grandmother, a teacher. My entire life is about nurturing and protecting children.

Now I am watching them fight to protect themselves. I can’t get over my anger, rage, sorrow and shame. I WILL march on the 24th. I will scream, yell, cry and clap. And I WILL vote very, very carefully.

 

 

Give Peace a Chance


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Could it really have been 35 years ago?

How is that even possible?

I remember that day, so very well.   Actually, I guess I remember the morning after that terrible day.

I woke up in our apartment, pretty early in the morning for a twenty something young woman.  My husband had already gone to work, but  my shift at the sandwich shop didn’t start until eleven.

I woke up. I stretched and yawned.  I think I cuddled with my cats for a few minutes.  Then I guess I got up and made coffee: I don’t remember this part of the morning.  This part came “before”.  I probably poured a cup and wandered into the living room, where our big old TV sat in its big heavy oak box.  I probably plopped into the armchair in that small living room after hitting the button to turn on the news.I probably sipped my coffee.

I don’t know for sure.

All I know for certain about that morning is that I heard the news man saying, “John Lennon was shot to death last night outside of his apartment in the Dakota.”  I remember that I gave a cry, that a terrible sound of shock was torn from me.  I remember that I stood up, and that I walked toward the TV screen.

And I remember that someone described the shooter, saying that he stood “in a military stance, with both hands holding the gun and aiming at the target.”

I remember falling to my knees and crying.

John?  John Lennon? Our John?  I couldn’t believe it.  I was numb and in shock and shaking.

I had already lived through the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, of Martin Luther King.  I had been to peace marches and rallies and anti-war gatherings.

I had grown up with the Beatles.  I saw that first appearance on Ed Sullivan.  I memorized every word to every song.

I played “Revolution #9 Backward” to see if Paul was really dead.  I cried when I heard about Yoko.  I cried when I heard that the band had broken up.

John Lennon was like my older brother; handsome, wise, talented, a little bit mysterious.

I couldn’t believe that he was dead.

Mostly, though, I couldn’t shake the image of someone facing him “in a military stance, with both hands holding the gun and aiming at the target.”

How horrific!  How could we live in a country, I asked myself, where anyone could get ahold of a gun like that and kill someone so good and caring and talented? How could someone just take John away from all of us?

It’s now 35 years later.  My questions remain the same.  The answers remain just as elusive.

John, we sure could use you now.

“Imagine”

 

And another thing….


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I’ve been talking to some very smart, very thoughtful people lately who just happen to be gun owners.  And I have had to adjust some of my thinking a bit.

That’s good, though, right?   I complain so often about those who are closed minded.  I don’t want to think of myself as one of them.

Here is one thought, from my very reasonable, thoughtful nephew Jon.  He grew up with guns, and is totally comfortable with them. He’s a hunter. He comes from a rural setting and he pointed out that some of my anti-gun thinking stems from a lack of knowledge. I’m afraid of guns. He says that some of my fear comes from lack of education.  He’s right.

He also says that a big part of our issue in this country is attitude. We need to learn that guns must be respected. They have to be treated with great care.

I’m with him on that!

But the conversation also covered the desire of so many people to own guns in order to protect themselves.  As I said in my last post, I understand the impulse.  But there are facts that get in the way of that thinking.

I’ve already talked about the statistics, all of which show that owning a gun makes you less safe, not more safe.  That’s just a fact, but people who are afraid are moved more by feelings than by logic.

So I turn to these two questions for those who keep a gun by the bedside in case of an intruder:

  1. If we didn’t have so many guns in this country, would you still feel the need to own one? If you didn’t feel that every one out there was armed and dangerous, would you still need to protect yourself with a gun?
  2. What do you own that is worth more than a human life?  I mean, if it was me, and someone came in to rob me, I would hand them the laptop and the wallet and say “good luck.”  I don’t own anything that valuable.  I am also not above running like hell right out the back door.  I can’t imagine how it would feel to shoot at another human being, even one who was trying to find oxycontin in my house.  If I somehow managed to kill a human, I don’t think I’d ever be the same again.

I think that Americans watch way too many episodes of NCIS and Bluebloods and Homeland.  We have an image of inner city gang members and terrorists storming into our suburban neighborhoods.  The truth is, where I live at least, the most likely intruder would be a young man with a huge drug problem, looking for medicine or money.  If one of them came in my front door, I’d be scared out of my mind, and traumatized for sure.

But not as traumatized as I would be if I fired a gun and had to watch that man bleed to death on my kitchen floor.

I understand the desire to protect ourselves. I do.  But for me, the most compelling desire is to protect myself from become just another killer in a land where there are already too many.

 

Guns Must GO


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OK, I am ready to cry “Uncle”.  I give up.  I submit.  I throw myself on the mercy of the American electorate.

 

I’ve been trying for an hour to write a meaningful post about gun violence. I can’t do it.  I can’t find the words.   I am too angry.

No, I am not “angry”.

I am so fucking furious that I can’t even speak.

We have watched as more and more Americans have armed themselves to the teeth. We’ve seen toddlers shoot their siblings.  We’ve seen angry high school students murder their classmates and teachers.

We’ve watched our most innocent children being slaughtered in their classrooms.

When faced with these horrors, what did we do?

We, as a nation, did NOTHING.

We. Did. NOTHING.

And now, here we are, once again, dozens of shootings later, facing the fact that we have let our most vulnerable and innocent citizens, our developmentally challenged adults, be the victims of yet another couple of crazies with guns.

I have HAD it.

Where the hell is the outcry?  Where is the rage?  Where are the marches in the streets?

Goddamn it.

WE did nothing. WE let this happen.  And it absolutely will happen again tomorrow. And the next day. And the one after that.

What’s next, fellow Americans?  When a guy in a bad mood comes rushing into the neonatal unit with guns blazing, are we going to let some asshole get away with saying, “Well, if only the premie babies had been armed…..”    When some guy with a chip on his shoulder walks into a nursing home and murders everyone as they sit in their wheelchairs, are we really going to let some creep tell us that “its the price we pay for freedom”?

What are you going to say when its YOUR church that gets shot up next? Or your school? Or your Senior Center?

The Republican Party wants to keep us all scared to death. Scared of refugees, scared of immigrants, scared of each other.  They want us all huddled under our beds with our guns in our hands.

Well, here’s the truth.  I AM in fact scared to death right now. I’m scared of the Republican party, the NRA and every single American who believes that more guns is the answer to the gun slaughter that goes on every day in this country.

“UNCLE”.  Don’t shoot.  Just let me take some time to apply for asylum in a country that hasn’t lost its mind.