Note to readers: Depending in which paper you read this column, there is normally a five- to nine-day delay from the time I must first submit it to the editors until you see it; as you might guess, anything can happen in that length of time to affect the topic and/or my perception of it.
I should not be writing this column tonight. This is my Christmas column. As such, it should be like a Christmas tree: cheerful and bright. It should be filled with promise and delight, like a Christmas stocking. It should be filled with joy and expectation, like a child’s eyes on Christmas morning.
But it isn’t. It cannot be.
Christmas won’t be that way for the 20 little children who were destroyed in a senseless and tragic massacre last week, the most horrific of our time and place.
Like parents and teachers everywhere, and those whose minds and hearts have not been made bitter by the scarring of the times, my heart is broken. I shed tears more than once on Friday and Saturday.
That’s the kind of scarring that can tempt us to throw out everything that’s good and noble about a people or a culture. I was totally dumbfounded by the incredible number of emails and tweets that CNN claimed to be getting from their viewers along these lines: “Principals and teachers should be given guns so that they can protect their students,” and, “Schools should have armed guards at all entrances,” and, “School corridors should be patrolled by armed guards.”
As I hear that, I’m forced into wondering how in God’s name can anything ever be different in that sad, sad nation? But even as I’m thinking that, I’m reminded how I was told by a friend that in her school in another Canadian province, an armed RCMP officer is on duty practically all the time.But there are differences. He has his own office where students can talk to him. He also coaches one or more of the school athletic teams, and his personality is such that the kids really relate to him, and think of him as they do their teachers. According to her, there are no problems.
I’ve heard American politicians, commentators and others state publicly this week that they are the most violent of all civilized nations, that they have more guns than any other nation, and perhaps more telling than anything else, the admittance by several that there is something awfully wrong. In the words of one, “We are a sick nation.”
The great empires of history have each had a limited lifespan. From the Egyptian to the Roman to the British — and several in between — they have had their few moments of glory and died. Each has collapsed from corruption and an erosion of human and social values, making it more vulnerable to attack from without.
Far better minds than my own have drawn a comparison with the United States. A former Nassau County police officer and now owner of a security company in New York made one of the most common sense and eloquent statements of anyone during that terrible weekend. “Until we come to grips with what is basically wrong with American society,” he said in part, “nothing can or ever will change.”
I haven’t heard anyone define the problem this week, but for me the basis for the American “illness” is in the glorification of the individual. Which is to say that individual rights are given priority over what is best for society.
There is no better example than the perceived sanctity of the Second Amendment to their Constitution — the right of the individual to bear arms. Over and over, that “right” has been shown to be detrimental to the welfare of society in general, culminating in the terrible, terrible nightmare in Newtown, Conn.
Yet even as we were struggling to process the horror of what was happening, person after person being interviewed was quick to point out that they supported the amendment, the right of every citizen to carry a gun — or two or three or more. It’s as though they were fearful of being branded a traitor if they didn’t make that clear.
This Christmas, Sandy Hook school is an indictment of that attitude and that belief. Countries such as Canada, England and others are branded “socialist” because we believe the rights of the many should take precedence over the few or the one.
So, the kid who perpetrated this horror is branded as evil, when perhaps the real evil is in the larger problem of a society which does not deal effectively with mental illness, particularly in the young. Or does not seem to understand that real evil is in an extreme intolerance, to the point of hatred, to those whose political/social/religious ideas are different from another’s.
Last week, not knowing what would happen in Newtown the next day, I quoted two stanzas from Longfellow’s moving carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” One stanza went like this:
Then in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on Earth,” I said.
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
As we struggle to find meaning and joy out of the tragedy and chaos all around us, perhaps the real meaning of Christmas is found in the powerful second last stanza of Longfellow’s poem.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
I pray the legacy of those lost children and their teachers will be the realization of that song. God bless them, and you.
— Marion and Ed
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.