161. First Day of School


Back to school feels eerie this year. It’s unusually cool. This chilly air may actually help the kids accept going back into the warehouses of education, which are starting to resemble super-sized box stores. But honestly, these crisp sunny days are the choicest fruits of summer, far superior to the hazy days of June and July that oozed fat sweat drops of humidity which collected in fleshy creases and overlaps. No, days like these are brisk, sharply defined, cool and brilliant… and precious.

Heather downstairs was late coming across the parking lot, and I pretended that it mattered to me, tapping my left wrist as if I had a watch, which I don’t.

Flustered as usual, Heather gushed, “First day of school and I had to take the kids in…and my daughter’s soccer coach murdered his wife and killed himself last night. And I had to break that to my daughter this morning. She loved her coach and his two sons. She cried. I said it was an accident. Some other day we’ll say what it really was. Can you believe that? Have a nice first day, Sweetie.” Disturbing as a snake in a bird’s nest, gulping down hatching eggs whole.

Whoa! How do you do that? Kill your wife and then yourself as your two innocent sons sleep? The lady at the coffee shop had been mumbling about this murder/suicide twenty minutes earlier. “I would have just left,” she offered. Another patron reading the morning paper suggested that at 3:30 a.m. the wife may have been asleep. Single gunshot to the head. Boom. Over. The how and when are covered, but why? No reason can justify killing the mother of your two sons, leaving them orphaned. It smells like a guy who was out of control and tried to regain control with a gun. We may never know all the details since he killed the only other witness, himself. And yet, we think somehow that sense can be sifted from the ashes of senselessness. You may as well burn the newspaper and then try to read its ashes.

These sorts of stories are becoming ordinary events. When we moved out of the D.C. beltway madness in 1980, my wife and I rarely heard or read of a local killing in our rural Franklin County. Someone would be killed while hunting, perhaps mistaken for a turkey, but cold or hot blooded murder was pretty rare. Now, it happens with regularity. I don’t blame guns; they do not fire themselves in the night at point blank range. However, I am perplexed by a lack of emotional regulation, mostly by men who feel threatened by a wife or girl friend who is leaving. Not that women haven’t done the same thing. There was the lady at the mall a few years ago who shot at her husband repeatedly but was a bad shot, killing some glass and a couple of mannequins at J.C. Penney. How is it that a person gets so completely overwhelmed by rage or jealousy that killing their loved one seems like a logical choice? In that moment the loved one becomes a coiled rattlesnake with super toxic venom; it’s kill or be killed at some reptilian level of consciousness. Blogitzers, we need to stay out of that reptile zone or risk becoming a rattlesnake that strikes and eats its mate.

And school, somehow schools and school children keep coming up as preferred targets for out of control young men with arsenals at hand. How is it that so many disconnected young men seem to all arrive at the same conclusion– go to a public school and kill as many folks as possible. Why not rush a nursing home or hospital? Why a school? I don’t blame videogames either. Even though they seem to be training grounds for extreme violence. The fact remains: millions play them obsessively but few of the players offend. I don’t like the obsession with videogames, but folks always find something to obsess over.

Here’s the sad fact: Human life is not sacred to humans. Not even little kids’ lives. If it were, what would our world look like? Unimaginable grace would flow from one to another in all our relationships, husband to wife, parent to child, neighbor to neighbor, teacher to student, provider to customer, employer to employee. Utopia would be someplace near instead of nowhere. If I treated you as holy and you treated me as holy, wow. We’d both be holy and honor one another with words and deeds. We’d spend a lot more time thinking and praying than running around doing and competing. Holiness requires a lot more meditation, I think. We’d have to live in smaller units because of the demands of holiness (which means “set apart” for starters); and then the practical application of holiness would limit group sizes, don’t you think? How many holy men does it take to change a light bulb? None, they don’t need light; they are light bearers, radiating truth like neon angels in the desert darkness. Oddly though, they seem to be born in or live in deserts.

But human life is sacred to God, so the more we choose to honor and seek out God, the more we must treat human life as sacred. This opens a huge can of worms from abortion to euthanasia and cloning and war and famine and immigration and poverty. The easiest way to deal with the clamoring of all these issues is to get rid of God, but that just gets one back into chasing his own tail or shooting his loved ones. I wish it were simpler, like finding limes fought off scurvy. Simple. Or the world is round not flat. Simple. God values all life; and if we value God, then we must also value all life. Hard.

Perhaps if that were the first lesson taught on this first day of school, we would have some small holy tile moments that comprise the universal mosaic of sacred life.

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