I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh has come to me now. Haunting me – eleven people. I could have been one of them, for I attend a synagogue. True, it’s in a different city, but one day it may be the next scene of a massacre. For the past few years, every time I’ve walked through my synagogue doors I’ve thought I might not come out alive. Melodramatic? Unrealistic? Not for an America where mass murders have become routine.
I knew almost nothing about Pittsburgh before this. Now I know there’s a synagogue ironically named Tree of Life in a peaceful neighborhood called Squirrel Hill. A rare neighborhood where it doesn’t matter if you’re “different” (read Jewish , Muslim, gay, et al).}
What do we tell our children about the atrocity in the Tree of Life Synagogue that fateful day? Saturday – the Jewish Sabbath. The children ask, why did someone kill like that and where did he get all those guns? No problem, we can tell them, because this is a land where it’s as easy to buy a gun as it is to purchase a new pair of sneakers. Shooting is the sport of the day. It doesn’t matter what age the targets are – from five –year- olds in a schoolroom in Connecticut to a devout 97-year-old great-grandmother who still went to Tree of Life every week to pray.
How do we tell our children? We don’t have to say much, because they already know. Hatred has a megaphone these days, and the children have grown up hearing hate shouted on TV by politicians who are supposed to protect us. Our children see other children – the terrified ones torn from their parents and locked up without them. They saw photos of a traumatized two-year-old questioned by a judge in an American courtroom in a language she doesn’t even understand.
I don’t understand this language either. I speak English, know a little Spanish and am familiar with sign language – but none of it enables me to answer the virulent language of hate.
Our children ask, Who are these “others” we are told to hate? Are they us? The Jewish children are frightened when they hear “Kill them!” So is the next door teen who’s come out as gay. So are immigrant men and women who came to America seeking safe haven for their families.
There is no safe place – not in Pittsburgh, not in the Charleston church where six people were coldly shot by a man they had invited to join their prayers, not in Las Vegas where vacationers were the targets of an invisible stranger in a hotel window far above them, not in the Pulse club in Tallahassee where young people who happened to be gay or trans were joying an evening with friends, not in…. Fill in the dots and leave room for the next times (s). For in 2017 these bloody events totaled 346, and in this year there’s been almost one mass shooting a day.
As parents,we try to protect our children. Don’t run into the street. Be home before dark, Careful on that skateboard. We also need to protect them – not from “invaders” – but from the more dangerous violence within our own land.
Wringing our hands isn’t enough. We each have the responsibility to do something. As writers we have the ability to voice our concerns and inspire action through books, articles, songs, poems, any form that reaches others.
As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.” We can tell our children that, too.
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow –Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play- both available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.