ON MY MIND: ‘I don’t know what to write, sir’

On My Mind | Maureen Burns

A very kind and holy man stopped me as I left mass last Sunday. He said, “You are a writer, right? Could you write about the way we glorify violence?”

It was a thought that has been on my mind for years. Last year I wrote something on how violence and guns were on all the ads on a game store window. Someone suggested I take it out of my column. I did.

Yesterday I was in two elementary schools in Grand Rapids. I walked into the school where my grandsons go and was met with a brisk no-nonsense secretary who quizzed me, told me to sign in, get a badge, and where to wait for someone to escort me into the classroom. I was going to speak to my grandson’s third grade class on writing. I thought she was rather rude but decided after the shootings in Newtown, that school security was a necessary and serious job so quietly did as I was told.

Soon a cute little guy with excited eyes came to get me — my grandson, Danny. I spent an hour with his classmates who were great fun, open and dear, truly beautiful happy learning little children.

As I left, I passed the lunch room full of first graders all having fun and lunch. I looked in and saw the little tykes, so open, so free, so childish. My grandson, Louie, was one of them. He just turned 7. Seven and 9 may sound old, but believe me, they are little children, little innocents, full of life and full of love.

I then went to another elementary school and sat in my car as school let out. I wanted to go in but was on a phone call so just sat and talked as the children flooded out of school. They were adorable, sweet, holding on to parents hands, hooking on seat belts, carrying books and backpacks. They were innocent, full of life and full of love.

Little children are not just names. They are not just statistics. They are not just sad sound bites. They are not just victims.

Back to the man’s request. I wonder. What can I say about how we glorify violence? I am a mother of four, grandmother of two. I have never held a gun. I have never hunted. My girlfriend recently asked me if I wanted to get a gun and go shoot with her. I laughed hysterically. Oh, heck no. What this world doesn’t need is people like me with guns. I ungracefully declined her invitation and we had a great laugh over her idea.

Do we glorify violence? Tonight I watched the Grand Rapids news. Someone had threatened to “shoot up” a nearby high school.

A gunman shot his ex-wife, her sister and himself. A boy tried to stab his roommate to death. He didn’t succeed, but did stab him in the neck and chest. A girl succeeded and stabbed her boyfriend to death. A man shook a 6-week old baby until the baby had serious brain injuries. (Try to think of how teeny and helpless a 6-week-old baby is. Got the picture?)

Next came the national news on NBC. There was still talk about the guy in Newtown who took four guns and killed 20 little children and eight others, including himself. This was followed by people who believe we should ban assault weapons and high capacity ammo clips.

Then came the statement by the NRA that they are “prepared to offer meaningful contributions” …

Next was the news that our Gov. Rick Snyder had vetoed the bill that would allow guns in schools and churches.

Last, was a story on how the assault rifle that was used to kill the Connecticut first-graders is now a hot ticket store item. People are flocking to buy them and they are projected to be sold out nationwide before this column goes to print. The buyers were interviewed grumbling about the government taking away their God-given gun rights.

So, I don’t know what to say about how we glorify violence. I think we do, without a doubt. We do it through TV, music, movies, games, videos, the internet. We do it through watching the evening news.

So in response to the man’s sincere request, I don’t know what to write, sir. I could write about the people I personally know who were killed with guns, but that wouldn’t help. I wish I had some answers. If I did, I would say, “Let’s just not do that anymore!” I am pretty sure that won’t help. I would also add, “Hey, folks, we’re all in this together!”

I will defer to a man of wisdom, Kahlil Gibran in “The Prophet.”

“Often times have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.

But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, so the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.

And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree, so the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all. Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self. You are the way and the wayfarers. And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone. Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.”

 Remembering Mo

I want to pay tribute to Mo Beach, our Habitat for Humanity Director, who died this week. It was a treat to work with Mo as part of a team to give a home to a mother with four daughters. Mo was very kind and let me tell the family that they were getting a home. I will never forget that joyful emotional experience and Mo’s selfless gesture. We had fun being in the small club of Mo’s in town. I will miss her cheerful British accent, her warmth and her ready laugh.

Maureen Burns, a Greenville resident, is a professional speaker and author. Her e-mail address is maureenburns@maureenburns.com.

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