2018-03-08 / Opinions

ACROSS THE SAVANNAH

We took a wrong turn somewhere
By TOM POLAND
a southern writer

Give kudzu, Virginia creeper, and trumpet vine credit. Nothing stops them. They all keep on keeping on. Nature, evolution, or whatever power you subscribe to hardwired them to survive no matter where fate casts them, a crack in a sidewalk, a gutter in dire need of cleaning, a cemetery, most anywhere. If plants could commit suicide I don’t think they would.

Not so with people. I know of four people who took their lives. Men all. I’ll spare you the particulars but the upshot is they lost the will to live. All shot themselves in an isolated place. Alone in a loneliness we can never imagine. Though two were bitter and beaten, they didn’t take anyone with them. They didn’t extract revenge for some perceived slight and that brings me to a subject everyone abhors. School shootings.

I hear theories as to why this is happening. I hear experts and regular folks offer solutions but like kudzu the massacres keep on keeping on. Nothing new. School shootings go back to 1840, and you might remember Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower shooter, who killed 17 people August 1, 1966.

Columbine seems to be the tragedy that unleashed a never-ending series of modern school shootings. The Virginia Tech massacre where a student killed 32 people strikes close to home. The third-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history took place where my daughter and her husband graduated and married, and now their son attends Virginia Tech. April 16, the day of the massacre, is my son-in-law’s birthday, so he and his family are forever reminded of death on what should be a day to celebrate life. Just recently my other daughter said something that breaks my heart, “Daddy, every time I drop the kids off at school I wonder if it is the last time I will see them.”

It’s hell to have to live that way isn’t it? As one of the mountain men in Deliverance said, “ This here river don’t run to Aintry. You done taken a wrong turn somewhere.” Well, we done taken a wrong turn somewhere. Here we are in a society better than ever with its inclusivity, multiculturalism, and arms open to all, and yet we have massacres, self-mutilation, mind-altering drugs, illegal drugs, and song lyrics that would send the late Charles Manson into rapture. Can we not try a few simple changes? Why don’t we forget groups and focus on individuals? What have we got to lose?

In our splendid society, too many kids think it’s their right to do as they please. Spanking? Passé because it’s old-fashioned. I got my tail whipped for all kinds of foolishness. Bet some of you did too. Did me good. To this day when I consider doing something I shouldn’t, I think. “What might happen to me if I do this?”

“This here river don’t run to Aintry. You done taken a wrong turn somewhere.” When I went to school we had .410 Mossbergs, handguns, and .22 rifles but we were more interested in cars, sports, music, and dating. My family went to church and come nightfall we kept the keys in the ignition and didn’t lock the house. What were we thinking? I suppose people like us owe all of you an apology. We must have invited all this criminal activity to spring up. Now we have car alarms, security systems, and a 911 number to call. We’re much better off now. Back then, we were plain lucky that no one stole our cars or crept into our homes to shoot us as we slept.

Like today’s kids we wanted to be popular, too, but that didn’t always come to pass. Daddy taught us that life wasn’t fair. “The sun doesn’t shine on the same dog’s butt all the time.” We got it. Some people are born prettier, some smarter, some into better circumstances, some into darkness. We still get it, but thanks to cultural apologists a lot of today’s kids don’t. Social media is a big part of youth’s culture. They post pictures and videos of themselves doing cool stuff and see how many “likes” they get. If they get too few, they delete the post. Their self-esteem depends on getting others to “like” the image they project. Many young people want the sun to always shine on their butts and when things don’t go their way, well, a few feel someone must pay the price. Lift thyself from darkness, ye of loser mentalities.

Yeah, we took a wrong turn. We decried old ways such as corporal punishment as abuse. When I was growing up the six scariest words in the English language were “Wait until your daddy gets home.” I can’t speak for you but knowing some kids see life more clearly courtesy of sore butts beats having to read about another massacre. Not all kids need a “whupping” as Ali used to say, but some do. Some of you get it; some of you don’t because you’re too cool for old stuff that actually works.

Nature is brutal. One October afternoon I walked to the mailbox. As I thumbed through junk, a thud took place. I looked over to see a decapitated squirrel bounce off pine straw. Looking into a pine tree whose needles glowed with autumn light I saw a hawk sitting up high. The hawk sailed across the court and landed in another pine. A second squirrel fell and it, too, had been decapitated. Was the hawk killing for fun? Killing for revenge? No, it was just being a hawk, but people kill for fun and revenge, and no one prevents it. With all the tenacity school kids can muster, they cling to this fragile thing called life but then some demon that feels slighted, a vile, greasy lawnmower, slaughters a field of daffodils. It shouldn’t be that difficult to identify these killers in waiting. Cruz, allegedly shot chickens with a BB gun, not your ordinary boy’s pastime.

Nature is resourceful; nature is spontaneous; nature makes the best of dire circumstances. Somewhere down yonder an old house has long stood on a windblown ridge. Over the years a tree has been growing up in darkness. Growing up and out a chimney, as bricks on the roof reveal. Perhaps a bird dropped a seed down the chimney unleashing the miracle of life. From an angle, the house resembles an abandoned chapel, steeple askew. The tree has a will to live and it’s growing toward the light, growing where it can, and the old house accepts that. In a symbiotic twist, old and new strengthen each other. The house shelters the tree, and the tree’s crown breaks thunderstorms’ violent downdrafts.

I wish I could say that house and tree give me hope that blending old and new ways of thinking can halt the carnage but that may never happen. People don’t have the will to return to discipline of a corporal kind at home and at school. It’s not “modern,” not progressive, so, sad to say, all we do is bitch and moan, but at that we excel.

And we excel mightily.

One more thing ... The next time you pass a field of daffodils, remember the children who are no more.

(Visit Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net. Email him at tompol@earthlink.net.)

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