Tuesday, December 18, 2012

GREAT TRAGEDIES IN MY LIFETIME

It is sad to be writing this the week before Christmas.  This time of year is suppose to be fun and filled with good memories.  Time spent with family is suppose to be at a premium.  For some reason though, Christmas does not bring out these overwhelming happy feelings to a lot of people.  I am one of those people who tries to find joy in the season, but it eludes me.  It isn't that I am a "Scrooge" or anything of that nature,  it is just my mental make up at this time in my life that makes me feel melancholy during the season.  I have found some things that help me feel a little of that good feeling, like giving to charities that help those in need.  I find pleasure in giving gifts to my wife and son and seeing the smile on their faces, but that doesn't hold me very long.  This entry isn't about that side of Christmas.  For the most part it isn't about Christmas at all.  It is about four tragedies that have happened during my lifetime that have left an impact on me and will have an impact on me for the rest of my life.  These four events, these tragedies, do not come from nature but from human beings.  All four of these tragedies sadden me when they cross my mind.  They are senseless tragedies that not need happen except a human being had so much hatred in his mind, so much anger in his mind, that they did the unthinkable.

The first of these tragedies happened in Oklahoma City on a bright sunny spring day.  It was April 19, 1995 and mid morning.  Suddenly a truck filled with a fertilizer bomb exploded, ripping off the entire front face of the Murrah Federal Building in that clean quiet little city.  People were killed instantly while others died slowly.  There was a day care center on the first floor of that building, towards the front.  It was filled with children.  Nineteen children under the age of six lost their lives in an instant.  There were part of a total of one hundred and sixty eight lives that were snuffed out that day.  As the story unfolded it became known that an ex military man who did not approve of the government of the United States had decided to show his displeasure by setting off this bomb.  That is not the way that our country usually shows displeasure with the forces that run the country.  Protesting is the normal way.  Usually peaceful protest that sometimes turn violent, but not an intentional killing of innocent people, especially little children who have nothing to do with the subject that is being protested against.  I remember seeing my fellow citizens walking around stunned and bloodied on the streets of Oklahoma City.  When they had woke up that morning they had no idea that close to two hundred people would died in a few hours.  The parents who left their children in the daycare before heading up to their offices couldn't fathom the idea that they would be seeing their children for the last time.  Then a picture was published.  It is an image that comes into my mind whenever I think of Oklahoma City on that day.  It is a fireman carrying a child in his arms away from the rumble.  I do not know if the child is still alive or not, but for me this one image brings all the horror of what happened that day to an unbelievable reality.
Fireman carrying a child from the Oklahoma City bombing

The second tragedy happened in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Lancaster County is known to have one of the largest Amish population in the country.  The Amish are a peaceful people who pretty much keep to themselves and follow their religious doctrines strongly.   On the morning of October second, two thousand and six, a man back his truck up to the little Amish schoolhouse and went inside.  He came in with guns and took the children and the teacher hostage as one of the children had escaped and ha run to a farmhouse next door to call 911.  When the police arrived, he was hunkered in the schoolhouse surrounded by children.  As negotiations continued and failed, the man eventually shot ten little Amish girls ranging in age from six to thirteen.  Five of the innocent girls died from their wounds and the man, after shooting the girls, took his own life.  There was not really a reason given for the actions taken.  The man had left suicide notes for his wife and children before leaving that morning.  He had set out not to deliver milk as he would usually do, but to shoot children and himself for no apparent reason.  A couple of days after the shooting the Amish did something that literally sent shivers through the people of the world.  They took their horses and buggies over to the man's house where his widow was sitting in a darkened room filled with pain and guilt over what her husband had done.  The Amish brought her food, and went inside to comfort her in her time of grief and guilt.  If ever there was proof of a God, the Amish people of this little township showed the world that there was on that day.  Five lives lost, five more lives injured and a whole community of the faithful would forever be changed on this day.  But the Amish held onto their faith and continue today, bearing no hatred or grudge against the man that destroyed their community.  I was watching television one night and they went to where the shootings took place.  The little schoolhouse has been torn down and replaced with a grass field.  The memory of what happened there will forever live in the hearts of that Amish community though, even if the schoolhouse is gone.
Amish funeral procession for five girls killed in school shooting

September eleventh, two-thousand and one.  Does anything else really need to be said other than the date?  This day would change the lives of every American for the foreseeable and distant future.  Nothing would ever be the same.  The United States had suffered terrorists attacks before what became known as simply 9-11.  We had some embassies bombed.  The U.S.S. Cole had been rammed and bombed killing some of our service men, but 9-11 was different.  In the name of religion from the middle east came 20 hijackers that would board passenger jets filled with ordinary citizens who were going about their work day.  Two of these passenger planes struck each tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, collapsing the towers into the ground in a huge pile of rubble and deadly dust.  A third plane would strike the Pentagon, the center of America's military operations and State Department.  The fourth jet would be taken down in a field in Pennsylvania by the actions of brave Americans determined to save lives by not letting this particular jet reach it's target, which was either the White House or the Capitol Building.  For a while the government of the United States was in disarray.  The President was on his plane with a military escort.  The rest of the executive branch and Congressional leaders were safe in an underground bunker in Washington D.C. pulling the government back together to react and defend the country in a proper way.   I sat and watched along with the rest of the country as the horror unfolded.  People were leaping to their deaths from the World Trade Center with no where else to go.  First one tower collapsed, followed by the second one.  There was a huge hole in the front of the Pentagon.  The building was on fire as survivors came walking out of the huge hole and other exits.  Then there was the wreckage in that field in rural Pennsylvania where brave Americans sacrificed their lives to save others.  By the time the day was over, more than three thousand people had lost their lives in this brutal act of terrorism.  However, as Americans have proven over and over through the years, we picked ourselves up and started to rebuild and to heal.  It changed the way Americans do almost anything, from traveling to getting a simple drivers license.  Security is high at all major public events.  We have had plenty of terror attempts since 9-11 but all have failed because we are prepared.  The whole world changed on that day in 2001 and it will never be as it was before.
Firemen raise the Stars and Stripes amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center
Then came the latest event that shook my senses into numbness.  December fourteenth, two-thousand and twelve.   In the small quiet community of Newtown, Connecticut things seem normal.  At the Sandy Hook Elementary School classes are beginning for the kindergartner through fourth grade students.  The week before Christmas and I can imagine that the kids were starting to ramp up on the excitement meter for Christmas.  Then comes nine-thirty in the morning.  A young man walks into the school and heads down the hall towards the first grader and kindergarten classrooms.  He is carrying guns and opens fire on the little kids as he walks into their classroom.  Once again innocent children are the victims of violence for no logical reason.  The shooting spree does not take long and ends with the young man taking his own life.  When it is over, twenty six and seven year olds lie dead in pools of their own blood and six adults lose their lives as well.  The facts of what happened has not been totally sorted out and new facts are emerging as this writing takes place.  The young man had apparently killed his mother at the family home before heading to Sandy Hook elementary.  For the next four or five days, funerals will be held for all the victims in this little quiet community.  Logic and reason can not be found while trying to figure out why these children had to die.  Not only the pictures and accounts of that day haunt me, but even the mere thought of the terror and horror that went through that little school numbs my soul.
Children are led from Sandy Hook Elementary after the shootings
These are not the only tragedies that have happened during my lifetime and certainly not the only ones that have effected me.  Some of the others are known by just one word such as "Waco" or "Columbine".  There were the Atlanta child murders and the shootings at Virginia Tech.  There have been gunmen who have entered shopping malls firing guns randomly at people as they work their way through the mall.  One of those happened in Kansas City a few years back at the Ward Parkway Mall.

The purpose of this writing is not to make any political statement at all.  I am not going to say my feelings on the Second Amendment or on Gun Control.  Although tempted, I also will not write about mental illness and the role it may or may not have played in these tragedies.  There is no agenda in the writing of this entry except to say it saddens me.  I feel confused whenever events like these happen as I try to make sense of it all.  When it comes down to it, there is no making sense of it.

I do not mean to discount other tragedies that have happened over my lifetime, but these four that I wrote about seem to hit me the hardest.  The only thing I can say is that to me,  it seems to be getting worse and happening on an increasing basis, and no one knows why.  I do wish someone could figure this out.  The people of this country should not have to wonder if they will arrive home from work safely or not when they leave in the morning.  They should not have to sit and worry all day if they will ever see their children again.

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