Our National Seal

10 killed in Boulder shooting: Victims identified, suspect charged - ABC News

It’s been a little more than a year since the life we once knew went missing to the vacuous stratagems of measured spaces and protective equipment. Inside this collective time gap, our lives have been made to feel like the chapters of a Richard Preston page turner; witnesses to the terrors of nature, whose shadow remains.

And then the last week reminded us once again, what normal used to look like before we went inside.

When a gunman opened fire with an assault-style rifle at a King Soopers grocery store in Colorado on Monday afternoon, it was the culmination of a week long series of mass shootings across the nation. From Georgia to Oregon. From California to Houston to Dallas to Pennsylvania to a supermarket located just a couple miles off the campus of Colorado University.

America is waking up to the reality of what we had become as a society, and what we still are. And now we get to read about the latest failures of our local, state and federal agencies. We get to listen to the mind numbingly tone deaf rants of elected officials who use the tragic occasions to spew their rhetoric. We get to hear first hand accounts of the war that’s been taking place right here at home for far too long a time.

Colorado shooting at supermarket leaves 10 dead in latest mass tragedy; suspect in custody | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ryan Borowski provided one of those first hand accounts from the front lines; a survivor of the Boulder shootings, he’ll never look at Monday afternoons or grocery stores the same way again.

“This feels like the safest spot in America, and I just nearly got killed for getting a soda . .”

It’s too simplistic to call Borowski and all the others who survive these rampages the ‘lucky ones’. Its too neat, since we do not know what they dream about, we do not know all the memories they carry with them in their waking hours. And we pray like hell that we never do.

These Are the Victims of the Atlanta Spa Shootings

The murderous lurk of seven shootings in seven days kept right on going this week. From Ohio to Alabama to Georgia. More lost souls to bury, more first hand accounts to read about and not a whit of hope to cling to inside all the madness.

So here we are, riders on the storm of a battle we can’t pawn off on 2020. And we’re left to wonder why it was that we yearned for a return to business as usual without considering what that used to mean. Because just as we struggle to loose ourselves from the entanglement of one terror, we step right back into the clutches of another.

It feels so damned naïve, to think about how we wanted to go back to the way things were before.

Sadly, we got it.

We Will Turn Them Into Monsters

Texas Shooting

I had this friend in the first grade named Benjamin. We called him Ben for short even though he was a tall, ambling tree trunk of a kid whose mop of red hair was in constant flux. His nose was always running and his shoelaces were always in a perpetual state of transit with the ground. Ben stuttered, sometimes worse than other times. It took me awhile to understand how his brain worked and what to do when his words started speeding off before he could harness them. It was simple really. I just listened. No attempts to correct him, no finishing his thoughts, no shuffling around impatiently. I simply focused my attention on what he was trying to say, and I listened.

There was no scientific application being used here, and the results were usually far from perfect. But even so, it did work. And as time went on, Ben became more outgoing. His quick temper, it became less quick. He became one of the kids, rather than that kid.

Admittedly, I wasn’t being stoic when I reached out to help a classmate. First graders ain’t much for Senaca, not usually. You see, I had this crush on an adorable Indian girl who sat next to me in class. She would throw these deep brown eyes in my direction, releasing a million butterflies into my stomach, every time. And so it was that we would sneak off into this little nook during library time, and kiss.

Ben was my first wing man. He knew the deal, and so he would be the lookout for us puppy lovebirds. Whenever a teacher approached, Ben would run over and let us know. I thought him a mensch before I knew what the word meant. He gained my favor, so I figured it was only right to return it in kind. And so it was that whenever Ben would stutter, I would simply listen. It’s funny how the simplified logic of childhood can gain the heart of most matters.

I sometimes wonder where he got in this world. If I were basing it on the literal translation of first grade life, then he’s providing security detail for some important peeps. But to wonder further, it’s where things get prickly in their real life complications.

He had some issues. Behaviorally, he was a tempest for teachers whose rules were still very much stuck to corporal punishment techniques rather than genuine understanding and compassion. I never understood why they would shout at him or put him in a corner, or in some cases hit him when he had an episode. It made no sense to me, to punish him further when his brain was already doing a job of it. Most teachers and faculty acted as if they had no time to listen. Which is exactly what Ben needed . . . he needed someone to listen.

Ben was pulled out of school sometime in the middle of the year. It had something to do with behaviors. Perhaps all the progress I made with him in our simple little moments really didn’t accomplish much of anything when it comes down to it. All I know is that I remember his name to this day, and yet, I can’t for the life of me remember that cute little Indian girl’s name. I’ve no doubt she grew up to be a stunner who probably married a doctor and had beautiful kids in the suburbs. As for Ben, I hope like hell he got somewhere better than what first grade detention had to offer. I hope he found people who got through to that really good kid I found whenever I took the time to listen.

It’s easy to forget that the kids who commit these horrible atrocities, they are kids. This is in no way to excuse the laundry list of transgressions they owned in the time leading up to their crimes. And it sure as hell isn’t to say that they deserve mercy now. Because now? Is too late. Because it was back there . . . when all manner of shit was happening, that’s when something needed to be done. That’s when someone, anyone . . needed to listen.

Now is always a too late proposition. Now is when families plan for funerals rather than graduations. Now is when we ask the same tired questions to the answers gone missing. And now is when we turn these kids who commit these unspeakable acts into monsters.

And it ain’t doing any of us a damn bit of good to keep going about it the same way, time after time. Taking sides, ignoring the long histories of most of these kids; histories that were screaming for us to pay attention long before the sum of all those hushed up fears ever came to fruition.

So here we are, inside the latest now. And there’s little doubt we will be besieged with more stories about the concerns surrounding the latest shooter in the days and weeks and months and years leading up to last Friday morning in Santa Fe. And the talking heads will have some mighty sounding rhetoric that only serves to widen the breach. And social media will blow up in feeding frenzies that chum both sides of a narrow aisle. And the rest of us will have our own somethings to say about this latest tragedy inside the now. And all of it, every single bit of it, will have been too late to bring back a day that will forever after be an anniversary that scores of families and friends will never be able to let go of.

There will be stories about how one of the kids became relegated to that kid. And it’s what made me think of Ben, who was fighting something all by his lonesome way back then, inside another lifetime when I was busy thinking that sneaking kisses and extra credit were life’s big scores.

I had no idea what any of this meant back then. It’s only now that I get it. Now, when it’s too late. It seems that I was so much smarter then, because while I most certainly didn’t know what mattered most of all, I was able to do what mattered most of all. What we all need to be doing more and more of.


The Courage in Waking Up

They woke up with tomorrow on their minds.

Seventeen mornings . .  seventeen “I love you’s” to someone they held close to their hearts . . seventeen schedules filled with classes and afternoon practices . . seventeen place mats . . seventeen phones chiming with everyday chatter from friends and loved ones . . seventeen hearts . . seventeen souls . .

Seventeen dreams.

Last Wednesday morning, the world was a great big chance that was calling on them to get busy living it. They were going to be lawyers and dancers and soccer players and Olympic swimmers. There were future musicians and community organizers, service people, writers and teachers. They had footprints to make on a great big world with hearts that could fuel the sun and ambitions that would light the stars.

They had lives that did not dwell on endings because they were too busy stepping inside of new beginnings. And there was going to come a day when they were going to fall in love. And they were probably going to get their hearts broken, and then they were going to undertake that most fool thing and fall in love all over again. And from there, every single thing awaited. Everything.

And then those seventeen life stories were ripped away from that everything. Seventeen souls, stolen from a place that loved and cherished them. Seventeen stories that ran out of pages, abruptly. Seventeen voices cut short. Seventeen dreams that never got that chance to happen.

So now they fuel the sun for us and now they light the stars so we do not surrender to the idea that the world is a dark and hopeless place. And now they ask that we have the courage to tell the stories of their lives so the whole world can understand what madness steals. They ask that we possess the courage to fight the good fight they never get to wage. They ask that we have the courage to divine the grace in our hearts rather than the rage in our emotions.

They ask us to have tomorrow on our minds.

The following was written in response to a WordPress prompt on “Courage”



The lies of a fine place worth fighting for

I remember going to my kid’s elementary school a few days after the September 11th attacks. I had asked my daughter’s teacher if I could come in to help out and she informed me that there was a schedule for such things. Still, she took mercy on me because she knew about the stir I had created on that horrible Tuesday morning when I called the school and spoke to the principal. I was at work as the news kept coming about another attack, somewhere else. There were all these rumors about more to come, and while schools didn’t seem to be a target, all I knew was that the world was burning and I didn’t have my kids.

So I called the school because I wanted to come by and pick them up early. Things did not go well. The principal attempted to reassure me that the kids were safe and I was having none of it. I told him in no uncertain terms that I didn’t need to be fucking comforted, I needed my kids. I’m not much for pretty words when my hard drive goes Chuck Norris. He didn’t miss a beat, keeping calm and talking me down from my crazy ledge. His was the voice I needed right then, even though I trusted nothing of a world that could produce the kind of morning we were living through.

I listened, and eventually I agreed with him. I was ten minutes from the school in the event some other catastrophe signaled the end of the world as we knew it. If I had to fucking walk to get there, that’s what I would do.

So my visit to the school was a need to be close to my daughter, my kids. I wanted to apologize, to the secretary and the principal. They hadn’t deserved my storm of curse words. They had jobs to do, jobs that became more difficult once the attacks began. And they had children, and families of their own. They didn’t need some irate father reminding them that the world was a mean place.

As I walked to my daughter’s classroom that morning, the walls were lined with crayoned pictures. Planes in the sky, buildings, people running . . flags . . caskets . . birds, peace signs. All those little, innocent minds had created a mosaic of that horrible morning. The definition of heart wrenching, it was in those little crayoned pictures.

” . . . we wanted the children to be able to process the event . .” Explained a teacher as we walked down the hallway.

I wanted to ask her how a child might explain that which has no reasonable explanation, but I had already used up all my grace points during that phone call a few days earlier. It made no sense to me, any of it. I felt so hopeless as I perused those portraits of the horror hanging from the walls. I felt as if the world had gotten lost and there was just no finding it.

The world I knew had been replaced, with this. With a place where my kids would come to expect death in the deep blue skies, and in malls and workplaces . . and classrooms.  It was as if Dante’s toy chest had been opened and now, inside this horrible now, there was no going back.

My prevailing thought was that these kids were too young for this shit. There was no processing such a thing as this. As an adult, I didn’t even know how to process it. I struggled with how I was supposed to explain the attacks when they finally got around to asking me, and so when they did, I began by talking about monsters. Even though I understood that such analogies were simplifications of a much more sinister truth. The truth being that bin Laden had been a boy once. The truth being that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were boys. The truth being that somewhere along the line, all those individuals had lost their better angels to the demons within. The fact that they were not monsters, that they were actual human beings . . this was the truly frightening thing. For me.

So I colored the story with talk of monsters, because that was the way had to process these horrible things. They had become monsters, somewhere along the way, and so that’s where I picked up the story. For them.

And then my son asked me if the bad people wanted to blow up schools and I told him no.

“They only shoot in schools? . .” He said.

I still don’t know how to answer that one.

Life As We Know It

Florida Shooting

Here we are again.

It’s the day after, again. When all we are left with is grief and questions, and sides. Because for all the sadness, the requisite questions we are asking now are already drawing up sides to a debate that, almost twenty years after the Columbine massacre, just doesn’t get it.

“Where does this end?”

We are left to wonder how we can put the toothpaste back in the tube when the sobering reality is that seventeen people did not go home yesterday. Seventeen souls who become the missing pieces of a puzzle that will never fit the same way again. Seventeen souls whose families and friends will live with a missing piece of their lives, forever.

Asking that question will be a provocation of the very worst kind, in which our elected representatives will shield themselves with the same pledges and promises they have been doling out in perpetuity. The gun rights side will lecture us on what the constitution stands for while the gun control side will throw up their hands in disgust, instead of demanding a legitimate road map be drawn up regardless of sides. A road map whose coordinates involve mental illness, gun regulations, secondary markets in which guns are easily obtained and all the warning signs that went unheeded.

Of course, as far as politicians are concerned, having a side provides them with the requisite armor to move forward. It allows them the efficacy of being able to argue that they did their due diligence but they just couldn’t get through to the other side of the aisle. Armor is what those seventeen souls did not possess when Nikolas Cruz ambushed them at the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by pulling the fire alarm to draw them out.

We entrust our politicians- local, state and federal- to protect us. So why does it seem as if they are only proficient at talking up a good game as far as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is concerned? Why do they fall short, time after time after time, when it comes to abiding by those tenets in the public interest? How is it all these smart people can’t go in a fucking room and come out with something? Anything? And how come we don’t demand it? When an elected official answers this latest horror by drawing up sides, maybe we should be asking them why it is they aren’t on our side. The side that wants their kids to come home from school.

Yesterday was simply the latest day, but it wasn’t the last. And I gotta ask, in what world was the first time not considered too much? And yet, here we are, having witnessed these horrors for a generation now, with no end in sight. All we have are more questions, and sides.

Seventeen souls, pieces of a puzzle. Their families and friends will never get that piece back. Their lives will never go back to what they were before three o’clock on Tuesday afternoon.

This is where we’re at. This is life as we know it.