Belonging

Schools are some of my favorite places in the world. Were I to rank the pleasures in my life, they would be there with libraries, forests, and the quiet of an old church. Something of the smell of reheated surplus cheese and frozen foods drags me back to the glory days of my childhood. Even during the horrible high school years, I belonged in a school if not with those particular kids: college was a wonderland. And I still want to teach social studies.

After Sandy Hook, our neighbors clamoured for our district to do something, anything, in response. They did. They instituted exactly the same precautions already in place at Sandy Hook Elementary the day Adam Lanza came to class. Now when I pick up my children from school, or come as the Mystery Reader, I don’t belong there. I’m an outsider unless in a crowd. Best I should leave the way I came.

There’s some talk of additional measures to have the schools resemble even more a fortress, a factory, a psychiatric hospital, a prison. This seems to me counterproductive. The impulse to be wary, to hold potential threats at a distance, is strong, instinctive. But exactly the opposite of what is required.

Another thing these shooters had in common was they did not belong. While not necessarily outcast, they lived on the outskirts of society. It’s easy to lose someone on the edges or in the cracks. It’s also easy to see him as the other and for him* to respond in kind.

Further barriers between us will only enhance the loneliness, will only set us apart from each other, will only add yet another brick in the wall and tear to the fabric of a society already rent by powerlessness and despair. A community is not built by pep rallies and slogans, but painstakingly, one welcoming smile at a time. We know this: we gather round each other for comfort in times of sadness and fear.

We must open our arms, embrace the least of these our brothers, and find strength in belonging together.

Before we too are outside in the dark.


* Brenda Ann Spencer is the exception that proves the rule.

A Plague of Locusts

The absurd contempt for life expressed in the apparent lack of concern for the necessities of survival — air, water, food — by the powerful drives me to despair. Either these folks are exceptionally ignorant and obtuse, to think that they are unaffected by poison, or they simply have no thought for the future. To them any really big number is infinite, as if the Earth isn’t a closed system. If there are no immediate consequences for their actions, there are no consequences at all. They do not care.

Who else but alien lizard overlords would place resource extraction above life? Who else would consume everything? Who else would shit where they eat?

We do.

We are the agents of our own demise.

Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things” describes a temporary solace. The first line calls out my pain. I can almost join him in the peace of wild things when I look out the window.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

a view of the snow from my house

Life has a different solution to this problem of reckless endangerment: Death.

Why I Cancelled My Newspaper Subscription

I’ve maintained a subscription to the deadtree edition of my local newspapers since I was old enough to pay my own bills. I’ve continued to subscribe even though the newspaper has grown less and less interesting, because I have found some things of value in it. But those things have steadily grown fewer and fewer, until all that is left are the comics. Oh, and newsprint does still come in handy when starting a fire.

That’s not worth the subscription price.

I’ve always read the paper for local news, not national. I don’t expect the newspaper to be broad in scope, but to focus on those things that others do not cover. It might still do this, but the news needs to be current as well as local. I have no desire to read the day after about an event that I would have attended if I had known about it the day before. I have no desire to read election results two days after the election, when the on-line edition of the same newspaper published those results the night of the election. I certainly have no desire to read last week’s baseball scores. Perhaps the newspaper is no longer printed locally and the press deadline is too early to allow printing current news. If that’s so, perhaps that was a bad decision. Perhaps one needs to abandon currency entirely and become a weekly opinion piece. Or abandon the pretense of being a news paper.

It didn’t have to be this way. But the choices y’all are making are driving your business into the ground.

Now where will my children learn to love the comics?

The Case of the Wrong Way Driver

On July 26th, Diane Schuler left Sullivan County, New York, on her way home to Long Island. Around 1:30 p.m., she entered the northbound Taconic State Parkway from an exit ramp, and proceeded to travel south. A few minutes later she collided head-on with another vehicle, killing herself and seven others.

If she was driving from Sullivan County to Long Island why did she crash there?

Investigators have since located the cell phone Mrs. Schuler used to call her brother. It was found resting on a barrier just past the toll booths on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Apparently she pulled over to make the call. Mrs. Schuler’s niece spoke to her dad. And then someone left the phone on the barrier.

Getting from the Tappan Zee Bridge to where she entered the Taconic involves a sequence of probable mistakes: taking Saw Mill Parkway north instead of I-87 or the Sprain Brook Parkway south; deciding to take the Taconic south after missing the Taconic’s junction with the Saw Mill; then entering the Taconic from an unmarked exit ramp, before seeing the signs for the entrance ramp.

But why did she turn there?

I have to wonder if she was following instructions from a computer.

The other option is that she intentionally drove north from the Tappan Zee before deciding to turn around. I think that’s less likely than computer error.

UPDATE: New York State Police have released, for some definitions of the word, the final report on this accident. The only additional detail released from the report is the speed of the vehicles. There is no mention in the press reports whether or not Mrs. Schuler’s vehicle contained a GPS device.

Speaking of Hate

I really hate that the rhetoric of liberty is perverted in the service of illiberal causes. And I hate this not just because of the hypocrisy of it. I hate this because now that the language of liberty is indeliably associated with those wishing to deny liberty to others, it is relatively simple for all who wish to deny liberty to others to argue that it is in fact those who wish to defend liberty who are in reality attempting to suppress it.

For example, it is well-known that the Ku Klux Klan would deny liberty to blacks, Jews, and Catholics, among others. Yet in rallying people to their cause, they speak of defending their freedoms. Now any who would defend liberty can be discounted as fellow travelers, tarred by association.

This rhetorical identification allows those who would expand their power at the expense of liberty greater discretion. You don’t really want to be like them, do you?

Bobby Dunbar

I’m listening again to This American Life‘s story “The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar.” The story is remarkably affecting, sad, and hard to imagine.

[This paragraph intentionally left blank in a moment of silence.]

But didn’t the DNA test simply demonstrate that Bobby Dunbar, Jr., and Alfonso Dunbar did not have the same male ancestor?

Lost Friends

I lost touch with my room-mate from Hampden-Sydney. He dropped out after my first semester there, and I ended up with a single for the next year. We did not keep in touch. I’ve often wondered what happened to him, but never put much effort into finding him. The Internet makes catching up with old classmates so easy that I never bothered to do something as simple as calling the alumni office to see if they knew where he was.

Now I know.

He died.