When I was in high school, back when the dinosaurs of pop music roamed the earth (aka New Kids on the Block), I was witness to the worst act of student-on-student violence my high school’s 70 year history. It was about this time of year, early December, and I was sick – as usual. I had lost my voice from all the coughing I’d been doing. There was preparation at hand for all the upcoming winter concerts, and being in every performing group I could squeeze into my schedule had me spending a lot of time in the auditorium for dress rehearsals.
I had orchestra 2nd hour and we had to collect our instruments from the orchestra/band room and schlep them to the auditorium on the other end of the school after the bell had rung and the halls were clear. I was the last person to make it out of the orchestra room on account of a hacking cough that had me stopping at every water fountain along the way. In my left hand, I carried my cello by the neck, and in my right hand, I had my bow. I rounded the final corner to the school’s main hall and entrance to the auditorium when two underclassmen came tearing down the stairs from the floor above. The sound startled me and I turned to watch where they went, so I didn’t get trampled. One of the boys race directly to the attendance office just behind me and slammed the door closed just as the other boy, wielding a 10-inch kitchen knife, stabbed at the door. I remember seeing the Vice Principal, a beefy, no-nonsense man, holding the door closed and shouting instruction to his secretary to call the police and the relief on the face of the boy who had been chased, that he had reached safety. The boy with the knife stood in the hall, seething and breathing heavily with the knife still in his hand. He didn’t step away or even look away, trying to bore holes into his target through glass and wood.
There I was, alone in the hallway with an insane sophomore and his kitchen knife. I quite literally had no voice to call for help, should I need it, and while I was a HUGE fan of The Princess Bride (and still am), there was no way I was going to be able to execute Bonetti’s Defense with a cello bow. Oh sure, it could give a stinging wallop that might slow someone down a bit and yeah, he was a scrawny kid that I had a chance against, but I had absolutely no desire to get cut. So, I did what every teenager does who doesn’t want to deal with something: I ignored it and let someone else deal with it, like an adult. I walked to the auditorium as quickly as possible and closed the door behind me. I croaked out the information to the orchestra director, but I don’t recall if she took any action. At 5’2″ and armed with only a conductor’s baton, she wasn’t exactly a force to be reckoned with.
No one was injured. I don’t even know what eventually happened to those two boys or even their names. We were told that the one being chased had made a point to torment the knife wielder on the bus to and from school each morning, and they had 2nd hour together, where the torment would continue. The poor kid had enough and wanted the bullying to stop. Stabbing his tormentor wasn’t the answer, but I understand his desperation and turning to the only thing he had access to at the time.
I was remembering this yesterday after learning of the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut. I was thinking about all the horrible, mean-spirited, cruel, senselessly violent, destructive way we hurt each other. I had to resist the urge to look for a place where madmen won’t come a-knocking to destroy families, although I know there is no such safe haven to be found. I hugged and kissed and laughed with my child more than usual yesterday, soaking up every moment of goodness and light, then mentally sending that out into the world.
I learned many years ago that I cannot control the circumstances or others, I can only control myself. What can I do about this atrocity? What can any of us do? We can be kind and loving and uplifting. We can shine light into dark places, give compliments, invest in good. I read once that it takes 10 compliments to counter the effect of one insult. This is far, far worse than a mere insult, but that’s a place to start, replacing the bad with good in small ways. How many good acts will it take to start to ease the jagged scar of loss?
I hurt for those families. Oh man, how I hurt. It’s being a parent that makes me so vulnerable to that, letting my heart walk around outside my body. I won’t go into all the things I can imagine, that void of darkness that has filled the child-shaped holes in the lives of those families. Their reality is bad enough without me projecting my imagined sorrows onto it. So I won’t. I’m going to fight the darkness the only way I know how, by building people up and looking for good and teaching my child to do the same. There is always risk and un-imagined horrors lurking, but I refuse to further their cause by spreading violence and anger. A smile here, a compliment there, encouragement and kindness and patience.
Hug your kids, or nieces or nephews or grandkids and tell them they’re loved, even if they think it’s gross. Smile and pass out some compliments today. Make it a habit. We could all use a little more light in our lives, and it shines brighter when it comes from unexpected places. Send some light into that darkness. We will all be better for it.