25 July 2011

Within hours of posting a new entry on my blog Friday, an unimaginable horror was visited on a country little more than 200 miles from where we live. For many Scots the massacre of over 85 teen-agers brought back memories of Dunblane, and the streets of our town emptied as people were home or in pubs listening to the increasingly horrific stories pouring out of Norway.

The quiet streets lasted through the weekend. Yesterday we pulled ourselves (Paul and I) away from the Internet news feeds and went for a long slow walk around the loch. It was a rare sunny day in Angus (at least our corner of it), and we had an incredible afternoon.

We were not surprised to see all of the families out on the paths, some on foot, many on pedal bikes. It seemed as though the Scots were holding their children close. We saw teens with their parents, and for once the teens were not eye-rolling but staying close to their parents. Quietly talking, in some cases walking arm-in-arm, all reaffirming their family ties. As the loch is a favourite place for Paul and me, we know the large numbers of families with teens cheerfully along was a rare occurrence. Teens are teens, the world over. But this weekend, Scottish teens were glued to their parents.

I wanted to call Fox immediately, I always do when these things happen, but I knew his mobile was off because he always turns it off while working. It is an instinctive thing in a parent to reach out to their child (no matter the age of that child) in the aftermath of an unimaginable horror so seeing the families yesterday was not too surprising.

I was washing up after supper last night, and was thinking what doubtless many people are thinking-when in the hell did things go so terribly wrong?! Was it when Rabin was assassinated (1995), was it OK City (1995)? Was it when NAFTA was pushed through (1994); was it multi-culturalism gone horribly wrong as the madman who perpetrated this latest nightmare claims? Surely it went wrong before 9/11/2001, though, the feeling is that 9/11 was a reaction, not a catalyst.

When did the world turn upside down, and things like what happened Friday become something that happens?

When did living become so fraught?! Like the other women I spoke with Saturday, we want to not have to think about these things-we want to feel relatively safe to walk to the shops, send our children off to summer camps and school; we want to be worrying about getting ready for our brutal northeast Scottish winters, and getting stock cupboards (emergency pantry in the States) filled economically. We want to be talking as we queue for pork steaks and beef mince (pork chops and ground beef) about the latest find in the charity shop, and how we up-cycled a pair of sueded curtains (micro-suede drapes) into a really stunning overcoat using the picked apart fabric and an old duvet for wadding (batting).

We want to be sharing tips on finding the best bargains on the groceries and other household goods we need to keep our loved ones comfortable, not tips on staying safe in public places!

Then we look at each other sheepishly, ashamed that we are complaining when a scant 200 miles away mothers are waiting to plan funerals for children whose bodies are not yet released from the crime scene.

And yet...and yet complaining, talking about these nightmare things is nothing to be ashamed of I think. We live in the 21st century. We live in a civilized country, a country wherein events like the one of last Friday are one-offs, things that should never happen to anyone-yet did in 1996 when a lunatic murdered 16 children and their teacher at Dunblane. We hadn't forgot Dunblane, just put it aside with sorrow and believed it was a one-off.

But then Columbine happened (1999); life changed for Americans then I think. There had been an earlier school shooting-can you remember when it happened, where it happened? I can, it was in Pearl, Mississippi, 1997. My son was in military school when that happened, and he told me on Easter break that he was afraid to go back to school after the holiday because he thought it might happen at his school. But we thought that was a one-off too, although the phrase 'going postal' (1983) had been part of the American (indeed global, I had friends in London who used the term) vocabulary for years. But then Columbine happened, and I distinctly recall being very glad I'd listened to Fox, and withdrawn him from school that spring of 1997.

I can go back to the Olympic murder of the athletes (1972), I can see the USS Vincennes shooting down of an Iranian airliner (1988); I can look to the savagery of the wheelchair bound man thrown overboard from a cruise liner (Achille Lauro, 1985). But we counted those as horrific one-offs too, as we did all the hijackings, all the embassy bombings, all the events that happened every few years...maybe the world didn't turn upside down overnight, but in a long slow roll that began in the early part of the middle years of the 20th century-did the world turn upside down when President Kennedy was assassinated? Is that where all of this really began?

I am an American. I remember being a terrified seven year old praying fervently with my classmates in St Joseph Elementary School church that November day in 1963. I remember that as being the time I first became aware that outside events could directly affect MY life and the lives of my loved ones. Maybe the world turned upside that horrific day and everything that has happened since is a reaction to the unimaginable event of someone being able to shoot the head of a First World country.

All I really know is that yet again a horrible, unimaginable thing has happened. And it happened not because a hurricane, tornado, tsunami, earthquake struck. It happened because a man who felt disenfranchised picked up a gun and started firing.

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