A couple months ago I was helping my daughter with her Arizona project. One of the requirements was a poster highlighting a current event from the state. I went online, scrolled through murder, after fire, after assault, after trial, after teacher strike. I could almost hear Jack Johnson humming Where’d all the good people go, I’ve been changing channels, I don’t see them on the TV shows. Four pages of bad news, headlines like Woman’s body found or Man struck, killed by car, with attractive photos of the people alive before they were decomposed, crushed, dead. I finally found Taylor Swift’s smiling face, arm and arm with foster children on the top of the 5th page. She’d given a free concert to the kids with pizza. Thank you Newsday, thank you Taylor Swift. We live in the era of self-fulfilling media prophecy, read about killing, go out and kill someone. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Are we all addicted to violence? Someone is reading the articles. Awhile back I let it all go, the news, the football, the MMA, the suffering, the injuries, the bruises. What does it mean to live peace? (I’m preaching now). Slowly move your fingers away from the computer, let the news go, let the violence go, vote with your time, give it to life, to peace.
I don’t go the movies because I’m afraid. My nephew tells me. My mind goes back to that evening in 7th grade when I watched Silent Night, Deadly Night, then read The Hobbit until dawn because I was too scared to sleep. Looking at him, I see that’s not what he’s talking about. I’ve been back to that theater once in the last 3 years, but never at night. He says. He doesn’t use the word shooting, the word that is on the news somewhere right now; shooting, shot, shots fired, mass shooting, school shooting. 2 dead, 9 injured, while watching Trainwreck, but nobody outside of Lafayette, Louisiana remembers. He was 14 then, a mile away, safe at home, but I look at him and see a veteran, a victim, afraid, maybe forever. Fatality, casualty, injured, with injuries, innocent bystander, survivor, relative of survivor, friend of survivor, community member, neighbor. The diameter expands, little, larger, largest, dots, spots, stains on the map, metastatic cancer.
I remember being in front of the classroom; leg shaking slightly, the sweat was no longer just in my pits, there was a wet ring expanding to the size of a sand dollar, darkening my Arrow shirt. On the board in my handwriting, Violence is the answer. The words simply arranged to spur discussion, debate. We were moving towards studying General Sherman and the Civil War, the scorched earth policy. Weeks later we’d compare Grant to Truman, and the dropping of the A bomb, but I always started with probing student psychology, trying to get kids talking and thinking out loud. Still on one leg, Raymond was also sweating, we were 20 minutes into class, his leg was wobbly. Raymond was the center for the football team; he kept coming to class late, my pleas falling flat. 11th grade, 16, 17 years old, and they were all systemized, stigmatized; I was the face of the public school bureaucracy, handing out tardies. Raymond was a tough, kinesthetic kid; I needed to lose the script. “I bet you put your foot down before me,” I said when he came in late again. I wanted him to do push-ups, but that seemed like a step too far, now we were in this one-foot thing together. “Violence is the answer, if Gandhi got shot, he’s dead, then what?” said Patricia. I hopped over towards Brian who had his hand up. “People talk about peace, but what about us making nukes? Only peace because we might blow someone up,” he said. “How many of you could burn someone’s house down in front of them, watch a child’s teddy bear become smoke, you holding the torch yourself?” I asked. No one said they could do it, they’d almost forgotten about Raymond and me, we were all in the present moment, thinking about destruction’s role in history. “There are no rules in war,” Phil said. “So, if you could, you’d poison the water supply for the entire South? Kill all the toddlers, dogs and horses?” I asked. Phil started to squirm. “No, no, there should be rules against that.” “But why?” I countered. 35 minutes into class and Raymond was puffing, flushed, swaying, about to topple. He finally put his foot down, gave me a grin, and sat down at his desk. My face was dripping sweat, I jumped over, shook his hand, “please don’t be late again.” “I won’t,” he said. I stayed on one foot for the rest of the 55-minute class, the bell rang, they walked out still debating, I heard one of them say, “violence isn’t the answer.”