Death and life in our schools and elsewhere

Posted: Mar 09, 2001 12:00 AM
And now Santana. Another taunted and tormented teen-ager has shot up his high school, wounding 13 and killing two. It's the latest episode in an ever-lengthening saga of death in our schools, subsumed under the heading "Columbine." The alleged murderer is 15, a freshman "picked on all the time," in the words of a classmate, "because he was one of the scrawniest guys. People called him freak, dork, nerd - stuff like that." So he ferreted out a .22 - perhaps his father's - and opened fire. These are the nation's young, and so, of course, we weep. The skein of death and maiming and anguish is appalling - and the young are doing it to themselves, with adult assistance. The wail against guns will go up once more. And certainly, the way to stop these incidents - or to reduce them, for they never will stop - is to hold parents and guardians responsible for the use of firearms by their offspring. Parents well aware of their culpability for Santana and Columbine (etc.) will be parents diligent about keeping their guns secure, or will not possess guns at all. Adults have a role, as well, in abiding, indulging, even encouraging the sort of cultural climate that tolerates - lauds - darkness, violence and death. The time for such indulgence is over. Florence Nightingale was spurred to cleanse the nation's hospitals in the belief that they, least of all, should be petri dishes for growing disease. Similarly our schools - where instruction should be for fulfilled lives - should not be hothouses of death. So weep, yes, and do the necessary - statutorially, culturally - (a) to hold parents responsible for the use of guns by their young, and (b) to cease tolerating the intolerable trash, tripe, malignity and deadly drivel with which this culture seethes. The subject of untimely death prompts some additional thoughts.... Dale Earnhardt, a professional entertainer/driver, dies hitting a wall at a speed approaching 200 mph, and the tear ducts set to flowing. A piece making the rounds on the Internet notes he had "$41 million in winnings and 10 times that from endorsements and souvenir sales. ... [And] today there is no TV station that does not remind us constantly of his tragic end, and the radio already has a song of tribute." Yet - for instance - several weeks earlier two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters collided during a nighttime exercise in Hawaii's Kuhuku mountains, killing seven solidiers - including the crews. In the words of the Internet piece: "Most of them lived in sub-standard housing. If you add their actual duty hours (in the field, deployed), they probably earned something close to the minimum wage. The aircraft they were in were between 15 and 20 years old. Because of funding shortages, many times parts were not available to keep them in good shape. ... They died trying to defend our freedom." And on Saturday, 18 in the Virginia Air National Guard's 203rd Red Horse Engineer Flight, a rapid-response construction group, were killed on their way home from two weeks of annual training when their C-23 Sherpa went down in Georgia. In these episodes, as opposed to the one taking the life of Dale Earnhardt, who except their families and friends will long remember their names? The heart wants to say regarding these young people who died serving their country, "You are not forgotten" - as stated on the POW/MIA flag now so widely flown. The heart wants to say that about the two recently killed at Gallaudet University, too - and about the many innocents killed in Israel and Northern Ireland and around the globe. The heart wants to say it about all those late victims of crime everywhere across this broad land - "You are not forgotten" either. And the heart wants to say that about the Santana innocents - as it will want to say it about those elsewhere, but like them, who later will die or be forever changed by what seems at the moment to be inexplicable. Senseless death will always occur. It need not continue to occur with ever-increasing frequency if we, as a people, change several of our ways: -- By holding parents responsible for their children's use of guns; -- By cleansing our cultural sewer; and -- By valuing life (You are not forgotten!) - all lives, lives of those in the military and mere civilians, as well of the likes of Dale Earnhardt - more.