Remembering Sandy Hook School

Remember the 60’s? I was recently watching a fundraising telethon on PBS of music from that era. When the music was new, I was an American, and just on the cusp of being old enough to grasp what our country was doing in Viet Nam. The nightly TV news report, the litany of how many dead, wounded or missing, was one of the seldom times my family sat tamed of our domestic agitations, and watched quietly together, in awe and touched respect. The sense that this report could turn a tumultuous family away from its turmoil and outward toward the greater tragedy before us, was a formative testimonial in my life.

The outrage and tears I felt, the Jewish ‘veygeshry’ of my mother, and clucking tongue of my father, my brother’s chin quivering just a little, told me that there is always work to be done that is bigger than any one of us. Our smallness was exposed.

I did go with my mother to political meetings, dressed in solidarity with the antiwar protestors I saw on TV. My best friends grew up in Topanga Canyon, not far from the infamous Mermaid Café, hippies abounded in my high school. In Hebrew School, we talked about Civil Rights and created charitable events to raise money for HeadStart and other new programs for inner city youth and families. I was a Girl Scout, and we made Christmas hampers for inner city families.

There was a social consciousness everywhere I turned. The world looked good, our actions were making positive change. I Cycled for Life for cleaner air, chose Biology as my major, intending to help the environment by providing research evidence of how we could intelligently preserve our planet.

Finally, the end of the war in Viet Nam, the withdrawal of troops, came. I remember everyone wept with joy. Peace at last. Perhaps not.

This past summer I was a Chaplain at a Veterans Administration Hospital. One of my offerings was a music program for a substance rehab program. The majority of participants were—Viet Nam war veterans. Yes, still, since 1968, they were just getting support to process the traumas they suffered, and the decades of self-medication by recreational drugs they had all subsisted on since returning from the war.

Here were the men, only one woman came, who I had seen on TV back then, sloshing through rice paddies, jumping from helicopters, slashing brush with machetes, clad in army fatigues and black smudge on their faces. They became the face of the violence in Viet Nam, not the government that sent them there. Returning home, they were neglected and even abused, by their home country. The memories they shared in group, often stimulated by the music we shared, were as fresh as if they had just been in ‘Nam.  We were there for each other, finally. The gratitude always filled the therapy room. I was glad to be with them, even if it was over 40 years later.

How is this tied to the Sandy Hook massacre? The violence goes on: this time with civilian guns. Will it take the large-scale national protests of the Viet Nam era to push the government to put an end to this domestic war that has no declaration except when tragedies like Sandy Hook happen?

Perhaps a return that protest era is the way to go, this time to create a comprehensive gun control law to stop the violence: In the words of Rabbi Arthur Waskow:

“Hey Hey, NRA, How many kids did you kill today?

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18.

Plus 9 grown-ups. Teachers, mostly.

These numbers red for the bloodshed of today.

Hey Hey, NRA, How many kids did you kill today?

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18.

I don’t yet have the names of those children or their teachers yet…

Gatherings utterly committed to nonviolence, which the NRA is not —

Sitting down, sitting in, chanting the names of those 18 children over and
over again, interspersed with the chant above (resurrected from the
nonviolent campaign  against the Vietnam War, which pointlessly killed
50,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese)

Risking arrest — DEMANDING that the NRA publicly and clearly abandon and
reverse its opposition to a Federal comprehensive gun-control law.”

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NYTimes photo

Be horrified, sad, compassionate. Can you take action too?

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