Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chardon Tragedy

About 20 miles northeast from where I live and work, Chardon, Ohio in Geauga County has been a place I rarely visit; I've always held it in a bit of awe as both picturesque and remote. But the human suffering since the tragedy on Monday, February 27 (2012), a rampage shooting in the school cafeteria, reminds me that violence does hit very close to home, often when we least expect it. And wherever and whenever we can care about one another: we are kin.

As I initially posted this blog entry, I learned of a third death among the five students shot. Three promising lives suddenly over, and dozens and hundreds in our region alone affected forever by acts of brutality one unseasonably warm winter day.

In some local TV news reports, which I believe showed diligent and emotionally harrowing work by reporters and news directors, several citizen comments were paraphrased as this is not characteristic of us and a reporter's lead-in to one story went something like even though you can sometimes hear shots nearby in this area ... it's not because it's the inner city ... rather, it's  a place for target practice.

I understand the impulse to say: "this is not who we are." I read the police blotter just this past weekend for the part of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, precisely where I grew up, noting minor-to-major crimes on the very streets I walked with abandon as a child. My parents chose our neighborhood carefully, fleeing crime and seeking a safe haven for my sisters and I. I, too, thought upon reading the blotter: can this be true?...violence does not reflect my family's values...and no! not how I want my old neighborhood, which I dream about as it was, characterized as a cruel place ...

I was struck by the red-ribbon placement throughout Chardon today (Tuesday 2/28). These tangible things are symbolic as only tangible things can be. And even as I often wonder if there is anything I can personally do to counteract violence (from words to actions), part of me still yearns to find my own personal utopia, somewhere. I must resist my own urge to stick my head in the sand.

If a moment of horror can instantly be put into a broader and "there's a lesson in this" context: I don't know. Tragedies are senseless, and I am not writing this to be critical of that impulse to impose an instant lesson or meaning. Perhaps we might draw a wider and erasable circle around such events, remembering to ask not only the unanswerable "why did it happen" but the more future-oriented "how, given the harsh reality, can one persevere ..." with appropriate focus on bystanders, victims and others touched by the tragedy. I include reporters, first responders, family members of all directly affected,  counselors and clergy in that loop of perseverance. Not all will experience PTSD, but some may. And all of us within news-range are changed for life in some way, no matter our temperament or degree of resilience.

As was wisely pointed out by one grief counselor on camera last night, the onset of one's personal reaction is sometimes delayed. Initially, people may feel numb. Help is available.

Whether in a gritty urban environment or a quiet pastoral one, today's students and teachers and school administrators (and parents and citizens without children) inherit a legacy of school violence. The root causes are manifold, but scholars have looked at them, even pre-Columbine. The chilling reality is not softened, for me, by those who say things like: "outbursts of violence are still exceedingly rare." When I posted to a listserv after the Virginia Tech shootings writing of my reaction, I was admonished by a fellow listserv member not to forget that it is safer to be in a college than outside of one; that was of little comfort then and is of little comfort now.

I am not so sure that statistics alone always support logic, even common sense, though some grow to assert numbers over words. Numbers are never a reason to stop a serious discussion on the root causes of violence, its possible prevention and the struggle of moving ahead in its aftermath.

The type of lethal violence inflicted on unarmed fellow students or faculty that makes headlines may be intermittent or rare (according to someone's statistics), but aggressive behavior is pervasive. Violent images and rhetoric are everywhere; violent thoughts, words and actions run on a continuum, I believe.

The Asa Coon shooting rampage at Cleveland's SuccessTech was likewise a tragedy, and not long ago in a persuasive writing unit, I alluded to that event -- perhaps 10 miles from my home to the west. I said to the class that violence is something I have to care about -- as a teacher, parent, writer, citizen.  Though I have no answers to violence (whether it happens a block away, down the street, in a neighboring state, or across the world) I can speak, in a whisper at times, to its lasting effects, because of my parents' history, described in part elsewhere. The effects of violence can reverberate through generations.

On the weekend near 9/11/11, I attempted to give voice to some observations in a column for Inside Higher Ed, with a focus on what we in college environments might remember about others' traumatic experiences in case those cross our path (as they will). The outtakes (what I removed from the article) spanned about 3,000 words, and in the known universe I don't think there are enough words to figure out the toll of trauma.

May we find ways to build a safer society, and may survivors of this recent tragedy -- and all touched by it -- find prompt and enduring means of support.

Recommended: Connie Schultz's essay in Parade.
Katherine Newman's Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings.


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