Phone calls and conversations I’ve had in the last months seem to convey words that an inordinate number of my acquaintances have serious medical conditions, some of which are terminal or potentially terminal, and some have died. Reaching the age of 80 has been cause for me to reflect on the subject of lifespan, notably my own. I even find myself reading obituaries of people I don’t even know and checking their age at time of death as if to do some mental averaging as to where I fit into that spectrum. And then, comes the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; 17 killed, 14 students age 14 to 18 and three faculty members.
As I read about how the surviving students are dealing with this horrific event, from their combined activism to their moments alone with their personal feelings, one statement by a senior, quite literally, “captured” my attention. She said: “I attended five funerals.” With that my mind started going through the index of the funerals I conducted as a clergyman when I was in my first parish at age 25 in 1963. I can describe, in detail, the first death I faced as a young pastor. I know what I was doing, where I was, the time of day, and the weather, when I got that urgent call from a family member “Please come quickly. My mother is lying at the bottom of the cellar stairs. I think she might be dead.” And then, my mind began to thumb through several hundred others that occurred while I served in the parish; expected and unexpected, accidents and suicide. There are times, like now, that many of them come thundering like a tornado ripping through my memory.
But never five, all from the same cause, and in the same place, and at the same time. Never, with the number yet to come being twelve, with possibly more from those who have been critically injured.
There is a phrase: “dead is dead.” These people were “shot” to “death.” Their young unfulfilled lives are over; every one of them. The survivors have taken to confront the “powers that be” in the government and organizations like the NRA with calls for change by legislative action and otherwise. There are “discussions” at the White House, speeches in the Halls of Congress and State Houses, at the CPAC gathering, there are accusations by “adults” in the media, tv and radio, in print and even in some churches, saying they are “paid actors” who go from event to event, death threats to the survivors, taunts and torment on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. And copycat shooting threats forcing schools to close.
What has happened to this country? After the assassination of prominent leaders like the Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King, after the explosion of the Challenger spacecraft, after “9/11,” there was a sense of “national grief.“ There were words of compassion to the families of victims and the survivors, from the person in the highest office in the land and on down.
It seems that ever since Columbine, through other mass shootings, and notably those in schools, like Sandy Hook and now Parkland, we have become numb as a nation as each one of these takes more lives. The capacity to grieve as a nation has been replaced with more bitterness, divisiveness, anger, name calling and calls for more firearms. I hear it echoing Archie Bunker from an episode dealing with gun violence when he insisted that an 88-year-old woman could pack a gun in her hosiery next to the varicose veins on her leg.
The grieving and mourning is left to the many teen survivors that will live with these memories through the rest of their lives, just like that file of funerals in my mind.
At the very least the President and the Congress should have decreed a 17-day Period of Mourning and urged every citizen to attend funeral services in their respective communities each time one of the victims of the latest shooting is buried. We should all have to experience what that high school senior and her classmates have to experience.
But as of now, we are all anxiously standing on the edge of a precipice waiting…waiting and hoping that we will not have to endure another similar tragedy when it will indeed be “mourning again.”
Phil lives in Hershey, Pa. and is a self taught goldsmith and silversmith. He practiced this craft from 1960-2009. Phil began his wood art in 1963 and was mentored by Emil Milan from 1963-1974 and 2009- present time. Phil himself has trained 9 apprentices: 7 in jewelry and 2 in wood artistry. Phil is also a Founding Director of the American Craft Retailers Association: 1982-1986 and has himself been a gallery owner. Vist Phil’s website: http://www.philjuruswood.com.