This Happened In My Lifetime?

gty_selma_montgomery_civil_rights_march_flags_thg_120130_wblog

I rarely go to violent movies – I hate to watch gratuitous action with blood and guts. It makes my stomach hurt to see it on screen in front of me. I prefer my entertainment to be to be entertaining, not physically debilitating, thank you very much.

So watching Selma felt like a punch in the gut for me. It was painful. It was difficult. It was amazing.

My emotions were close to the surface going into the movie. I lived through that period of history. I was only 5 years old and relatively unaware, but I remember the news broadcasts. I remember the conversations. I remember being shocked by what I heard. How was it that some humans could be so awful to others? I didn’t understand it. And I grew up with plenty of violent images on the news – from Vietnam, from the Kennedy Assassination – very little filtering or concern about how the graphic nature of the news would affect children. It’s probably why I made it a policy with my own kids to turn off the news – it scarred me when I was young.

pettus

From the first few minutes, where a bomb destroys a church killing 4 little girls, to the attacks on the peaceful marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I felt every impact as a blow to my own body. I flinched. I hurt. I was distraught.

This is the kind of movie that evokes strong feelings and reactions. It is designed to make you a part of the scene and it succeeds. I found it both impossible to watch at times and impossible to look away. That part of our history needs to be witnessed. It needs to be remembered.

ap_bloody_sunday_civil_Rights_march_thg_120130_wblog

Today’s situations in Ferguson and Florida and New York are all reminders that we still have so very far to go. That in my lifetime, we have not come far enough. I am disappointed and embarrassed to see that we are not doing better when it comes to getting along as human beings. In many respects, we have more divisions than ever – race is just one.

I’d like to think that we know better now. I’d like to think that progress has been made. But when I read headlines that could just as easily have come from 1965 as 2015, I feel discouraged. How is it that we still can’t get along with our own kind? We are all part of the human race, people. We all work the same way – we bleed, we breathe, we love, we die – no matter what color we are, no matter what god we worship. And yet…we still make distinctions based on external factors.

I left the movie with a lump in my throat. I found it hard to speak. I wanted to tell my son about what I remembered from that time of my life – I was, after all, just a child. But I needed to tell him that I lived through it and I did remember bits and pieces of it. And that it hurt to watch such a painful episode of our history. And that current events showed us we still have far to go.

gty_selma_montgomery_civil_rights_march_police_thg_120130_wblog

I know I will never think of voting the same again. It is a privilege for everyone. We need to exercise that right every election and remember – for some, it cost them their lives. It’s a right we need to protect and respect. It’s the only way to honor those who had to sacrifice so much to get there.

Take the time to see the movie – this is a great day to go. Take the time to feel the powerful emotions. And remember – we have more to do. We can do better.

For more information on the March to Selma in 1965, please see here.

Angry Words

I took the afternoon off to bake cookies for an annual cookie exchange in the neighborhood yesterday.  I worked until about noon and then sat down to lunch before rolling up my sleeves to get busy.  I scanned the headlines while I ate and realized that something bad had happened in Newtown, Connecticut.  As I read more, I felt sick.  Then I felt angry – really, really angry.  It surprised me how strongly I reacted, but then I went back through all the times I have had this same feeling of being sickened by tragedies caused by guns and I know why I’m so pissed off.  It’s because it’s still happening.

I reflected on the all that I’ve done in the past – the times that I have advocated for better gun control laws, for awareness, for legislation.  I’ve supported the Brady Campaign since its inception.  All of this in the past 20 years has changed nothing.  And that makes me really, really, REALLY angry.

How is it possible that we still allow this kind of thing to happen?  Is there any reason that a person needs to have access to guns whose sole purpose is to kill other people?  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating against guns entirely.  I am simply asking if it isn’t time we stop the madness.  An article I read yesterday that really hit home was entitled “Kindergartners and Courage”.  In it, the author asks “How do we find ourselves asking kindergarteners to be more courageous in the face of a gunman than politicians are in the face of the gun lobby?”  And that is really the message here – the innocent victim is left to deal with the fallout and the gun lobbyists and the politicians wail and gnash their teeth bemoaning the tragedy.  But I place the blame squarely on them.  Why is this allowed?  Is this what the founding fathers meant when they crafted the Second Amendment?  Hell no.

While making the cookies, I turned on a Christmas channel for music.  Do you know how many songs are about wanting to be with loved ones for the holiday?  Almost every other song, it seems to me.  And my heart ached, thinking of those families who would be missing someone this Christmas.  Those parents kissed their kids goodbye – babies, really – that morning, never doubting they’d see them again that afternoon.  This is not something that should ever happen in a place that is meant to be safe.  This is not something that should ever happen to little kids.  This is not something that should ever happen. 

Those parents undoubtedly bought some of their Christmas gifts already.  Those reminders of their loss will haunt them, mocking their sense of security. How could they possibly put their kids in harm’s way by sending them to school?  As a parent, how do you reconcile that?  I cannot wrap my head around it.

I have been hit by periods of sadness as we have made our way through the holiday maze this year.  I miss my parents and my sister a lot during this time when families draw close.  I am wistful for their absence and have memories come out of the blue that knock me over.  I get through it and know it’s a part of the process.  Yesterday, I was reminded that my loss is a normal part of life’s patterns.  One’s parents are meant to pass away before them, and a sibling may, as well.  Children?  No.  Not usually.  That loss would be so much harder to bear.  It defies understanding if you’ve not experienced it.

I had some pangs of guilt yesterday after I tweeted something with a really bad word in it.  It came into my head with such force and such clarity that I made the conscious choice to send it out unfiltered.  Those who know me probably would be shocked to hear such bad language but it was heartfelt and it came from a place of true frustration and rage over another senseless tragedy.  I almost went back and deleted it, but I chose to leave it out there.  I have to acknowledge that I am, indeed, really angry.  I can’t change the laws and I can’t fix the problem alone.  I can, however, express my opinion again and again and again, which I will do whenever there is an opportunity.  It doesn’t even come close to being enough.

I finished up the cookies and boxed them in festive holiday packages.  They look lovely and taste delicious.  Sadly, they feel like sawdust in my mouth.  This is a feeling I know well. It is the feeling of loss.  It’s as though I feel guilty about my ability to enjoy a cookie when those who’ve left us are no longer able.  Survivor’s guilt, I guess.

Over breakfast this morning, I read a personal account from Justin Peters, who writes for the Columbia Journalism Review.  He attended the prayer vigil in Newtown last night.  It was heartfelt and touching and brought home again the pain that is felt by so many.  It is pain that could and should have been prevented.

We bond together when things like this touch us.  We find comfort and solace in our shared pain.  I appreciate that, but what I want to see is a rising up of people who say we are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.  One more mass shooting is too many.  How long will we continue to acknowledge the problem but do nothing about it?

For the children and families of Sandy Hook Elementary, it is now too late.  It’s up to the rest of us to make a change. As I recall from my earliest class on Civics, one’s rights extend only to the point at which they infringe on another’s.  I would say this is the ultimate infringement.

To all who have been touched by this tragic event, my heartfelt sympathy and prayers.  To the rest of us, I challenge you to step up and make a difference.  It’s time to put aside politics and do what is right for our children.  Make a stand for real change and reach out to your legislators to let them know that another mass shooting in anyone’s community needs to be prevented.  Let’s get this fixed.   That’s just common sense.