Friday, December 14, 2012

Kris Kristofferson & Today's News

What the world doesn't need right now is one more voice talking about the school shooting today in Connecticut.  But these are my thoughts on how music helped me sort through my reaction to it today.  This post is rough, but it's supposed to be.  It's too long, I curse, it's probably not well-edited.  But I kind of wanted a raw response, so I left it as it came out of my brain.

Let's please not have an argument here about gun control and politics.  That's not what this is about and now's not the time for it. 

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When I got up this morning, one of the news headlines on my regular internet routine was about the man who opened fire in an Oregon mall a few days ago.

A couple of hours later, I saw a headline about a shooting. 

At an elementary school.

I haven’t watched much of the coverage of the situation; partly because I don’t think I can take it and partly because I don’t want any sensationalism of what is already maybe the worst things I've ever heard of.

I don’t know that I've ever cried because of a news story.  I mean actually cried, real tears, coming down my cheeks.  Even 9/11, as horrific as it was, was so surreal and unbelievable that I just stood there, taking it all in, like everyone else in the world, slack-jawed.  I couldn't comprehend it.

But this – a shooting at an elementary school – I can comprehend.  I dropped my five-year old daughter off at an elementary school this morning; one about the same size as Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where this situation is unfolding.

This story has absolutely broken my heart.  The details I know are that 26 are dead, including one gunmen (as of this writing, supposedly there might be two; one of whom is missing).  Of that number dead, 20 of them are children. 

Elementary school children.  

Kindergarteners.

I wanted to dedicate a song to the kids and families affected and the first thing I thought of was one by a man I consider to be a modern day prophet (not a term I use lightly, by the way), Kris Kristofferson


IN THE NEWS
By Kris Kristofferson

Read about the sorry way he done somebody's daughter
Chained her to a heavy thing and threw her in the water
And she sank into the darkness with their baby son inside her
A little piece of truth and beauty died

Burning up the atmosphere and cutting down the trees
The billion dollar bombing of a nation on its knees
Anyone not marching to their tune they call it treason
Everyone says God is on his side

See the lightning, hear the cries
Of the wounded in a world in Holy war
Mortal thunder from the skies
Killing everything they say they're fighting for

Broken babies, broken homes
Broken-hearted people dying every day
How'd this happen, what went wrong
Don't blame God, I swear to God I heard him say

"Not in my name, not on my ground
I want nothing but the ending of the war
No more killing, or it's over
And the mystery won't matter anymore"

Broken dreamers, broken rules
Broken-hearted people just like me and you
We are children of the stars
Don't blame God, I swear to God he's crying too

"Not in my name, not on my ground
I want nothing but the ending of the war
No more killing, or it's over
And the mystery won't matter anymore"

Read about the sorry way he done somebody's daughter
Chained her to a heavy thing and threw her in the water
And she sank into the darkness with their baby son inside her
A little piece of truth and beauty died

"In the News” is obviously not about today’s school shooting.  Its lyrics allude to the Scott & Laci Peterson story that consumed the news a few years ago and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Please make no mistake – I’m not posting this song with any political intentions about the war.

So many of these lyrics speak to me about today’s news:

“…a little piece of truth and beauty died.”

Whatever kind of statement the gunman in the Colorado theater shooting earlier this year wanted to make, he felt the way to do it was by carrying out some despicable act.  But it was mostly adults and it was in an unaffiliated public place.

Columbine was high school kids proving a sick point against other high school kids.

Again, NOTHING excuses these horrible acts.

But who the hell shoots children?

I have a five-year old little girl.  And every day I’m awed by the beauty of watching her life unfold.  I’m amazed as I can see her personality develop.  Every day that she gets out of the car to head in to school, my heart is filled with a bitter-sweet feeling.  I see these kids going to and fro; so innocent.  The other day when I picked my daughter up, a very rough-around-the-edges-looking little boy ran up to his rough-around-the-edges-looking mom and shouted, “I love you…all in my heart!”  It was beautiful.

I used to work with a homeless outreach project and sometimes I’d take my daughter with me. She was about two then.  One of the homeless guys I became friends with used to always comment on her innocence.  It kind of freaked me out for a while, but I get it now.  He’d been in prison and had lived a very tough life.  He was in awe of the sweetness and untainted, pure innocence of a small child.

I watch these kids and I love their innocence.  Life hasn't knocked them around too much and everything is in front of them.  The hardships and disappointments of life haven’t affected them.  It’s bittersweet, though, because I know eventually those things will take their toll.  My daughter will always be loved by me and will always be beautiful to me; but that pure innocence and unguarded optimism eventually goes away.

But not when they’re five.  Not at school. That stuff happens later.  School should be an almost sacred place, in its own way.  Believe me, I have many issues with the “school system” in general.  (I was contemplating just today a blog post about the frustration of having to try to teach my daughter to color things their “standard/designated” colors when I know good and well that it’s cooler to make things fun colored and not worry too much about staying in the lines).  BUT, especially in kindergarten, school is magical.  Four months ago she couldn't read or write anything other than her name.  She now reads, writes, sort of understands money, can tell time a little bit, knows the days of the week and months of the year, and more.  She’s like Keanu Reeves’s Neo character in The Matrix when they first hook him up to the machine and pump him full of tons of new knowledge!

But all of that magic associated with those early years of school…the unguarded optimism…the pure innocence…that’s gone for these kids forever.  

The feeling of dropping my daughter off at school is also bittersweet because I know that as much as I love her, once I let her out of my care into the school, someone might not be nice to her.  I think about her throughout my day and I hope that everyone is treating her right and that she’s treating her classmates right.  The thought of someone hurting my little girl hurts me.

I understand that thought and concern is a typical part of being a parent.  But what happened today in Connecticut is not typical.  It’s normal for me to worry about someone giving my kid a hard time.  But I should NEVER have to worry about a grown-ass man coming in with an assault rifle and opening fire on my five-year old’s class.

The first picture I saw of the incident was a line of elementary school kids being led out of the building by their teacher, all holding hands in the classic “little duckling” scenario that little kids do.  It was a powerful juxtaposition; a classic “kid pose”, but a look on their little faces that said without question that nothing would ever be the same again.

There’s a little, but tangible, bit of truth and beauty that’s missing from the world now.  And if there’s anything in this world that we’re already short on, it’s truth and beauty.

“Broken babies, broken homes…brokenhearted people dying every day.”

Need I say more?  These were babies.  Their homes – as well as the lives of their families – are now forever broken, eleven days before Christmas.  Kristofferson may have meant those lines differently originally, but their applicability here is profound.

“I want nothing but the ending of the war”

Although I pledged that I wouldn't refer to Kristofferson’s opposition of the war in this song, I think this line fits because of a war of a different nature; a war against humanity.  Everything seems to be warring against humanity.

Institutions, corporations, politics, all seem to be out for themselves and people seem to be paying the price.  The media feeds on it.  We live in a culture of fear.  People treat each other badly all over the world; killing and dying in the name of their religion, on behalf of their government, over greed, and on and on.  We’re quickly losing our humanity.  To borrow a line from Mike Ehrmantrout on Breaking Bad, “I can foresee a lot of possible outcomes to this thing, and not a single one of them involves Miller Time”. 

We've simply got to figure this stuff out and start treating each other like people.

“How’d this happen?  What went wrong?”

An obvious line for today, and a question that everyone in America is most likely – and should be – asking themselves.

“No more killing…or it’s over…and the mystery won’t matter anymore.”

What if we don’t figure this out?  What if one of those situations does play out and, as Mike Ehrmantrout predicted, it doesn't end with Miller Time?

I’m certainly not saying I’m an enlightened person or that I have anything figured out.  But the collective stupidity of humanity astounds me.  Look at the life around you.

Human beings are complex organisms that live on a fuckin’ ROCK THAT’S SUSPENDED IN MID-AIR IN THE MIDDLE OF OUTER SPACE, just precisely the right distance close to and far away from the sun – a gigantic ball of flaming gas that sustains all life.  Ponder the amazing magnitude of that for a minute.

If we’re lucky, we each get about 90 years to inhabit some space on that rock.  We could spend those 90 years, learning as much as possible about this amazing creation we live in, and the amazing variety of people that inhabit the various spots on this rock, but instead we choose to follow our own little mouse trails, keep ourselves busy working toward and consuming mundane shit we don’t need, obsessing over the latest telephone that you can watch TV on, tweeting, and keeping up with Lindsay Lohan’s latest court date.  Rather than learn about each other and lift each other up and help each other though this life thing, we prefer to bicker over politics and kill each other over religion and real estate.

Sometimes when I look up at the stars, I’m simply amazed that I get the privilege for a short while to be a part of whatever this is all about.  And I spend most of that time in a cubicle, trying to get a buck, so I can make my way in the world that is infinitely cooler than we give it credit for.

Joe Strummer used to encourage his fans to wake up to the fact that we’re all here, alive, together, in the same place, and that we need to live that way.  Otherwise, life is truly passing us by.

I sign off my radio show each week by stealing Bill & Ted’s classic – and classically cheesy – line, “Be excellent to each other.”

We’re all we've got in this world, ya’ll.  If you have a family who loves you, you’re a lucky person.  If you have friends you can depend on, that’s a blessing.

Whatever god you pray to, or whatever it is that you believe in, or whatever motivates you – don’t let that stuff divide us.  Everything divides us: money, religion, power, etc.  We need to get back together and wake up and respect the humanity.  We need to treat each other excellently. 

My thoughts go out to the kids in Connecticut, to the families of those hurt or lost, and to the family of the perpetrator of this horrific tragedy.  Don’t forget that there must have been some serious pain and anguish that caused him to do this.

I’ll close with the words of another Kristofferson tune, from the same album mentioned above, “Pilgrim’s Progress”:

PILGRIM’S PROGRESS
By Kris Kristofferson

Am I young enough to believe in revolution
Am I strong enough to get down on my knees and pray
Am I high enough on the chain of evolution
To respect myself, and my brother and my sister
And perfect myself in my own peculiar way
I get lazy, and forget my obligations
I'd go crazy, if I paid attention all the time
And I want justice, but I'll settle for some mercy
On this Holy Road through the Universal Mind

Am I young enough to believe in revolution
Am I strong enough to get down on my knees and pray
Am I high enough on the chain of evolution
To respect myself, and my brother and my sister
And perfect myself in my own peculiar way

I got lucky, I got everything I wanted
I got happy, there wasn't nothing else to do
And I'd be crazy not to wonder if I'm worthy
Of the part I play in this dream that's coming true

Am I young enough to believe in revolution
Am I strong enough to get down on my knees and pray
Am I high enough on the chain of evolution
To respect myself, and my brother and my sister
And perfect myself in my own peculiar way 

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