Monday, October 09, 2006

Lancaster, PA

The day was sunny and 80 degrees, the smell of cut grass. At precisely 10:45AM, one week from the tragic shooting at the small Amish school in that town, the principal at the modern high school came on the loudspeaker to remind us to pause in remembrance. It was so impressive how the Amish community came together to support the family of the shooter, a milkman, a quiet family man, who apparently lost his mind. In so doing, they gave us all a lesson in anti-anger. So often it seems as if we live in an enraged society. It's as if there is no such thing as "mildly annoyed" any more, everyone is screaming mad. And as any movie or TV watcher knows, there is only one legitimate response to preserving one's dignity when screaming mad -- Die Hard-AK 47-viedo-game-blood-splatter-road-rage vengefulness.

If there is ever a case that would justify really becoming "screaming mad," it would be gunshots to the heads of innocent young girls. But the Amish don't watch that much TV and vengefulness is not the Amish way. Surely they must have felt some anger along with their grief, but they willed their faith and their sense of reason to prevail. In so doing, they shut down the media circus and took care of one another, comforting the spiritually and physically wounded instead of losing themselves in angry screaming and revenge.

As a result, no talking head on cable was suggesting that all milkmen get arrested and locked up at Gitmo without charges. No one invaded the milkman's home and shot his wife and kids in revenge. There were no bombs dropped on his neighbors because of their religious affiliations. The community came together to lay to rest the dead and then razed the building. But no more lives were ruined, compounding the tragedy.

There were some calls for increased school safety, but as a frequenter of many schools, I will say that I get buzzed in through expensive security all the time. Why? Because I don't look threatening, I suppose. I was at one school in Western PA once where there had been a shooting just prior to my visit. When I asked about the plywood-for-windows decorating theme, the teacher told me the story of a man entering the building and shooting wildly and missing everyone (thankfully).

"But you have such modern, sophisticated security systems here," I said.
"Oh, yes," she agreed. "But it was the secretary's husband. We knew him, so we let him in."

And, except for the case of the tragedy of the Chetchnian rebels, the fact is the shooters are always known to the victims. Had there been a security system at that little one room school, I'm certain they would have let the shooter in. He was their milkman.

What is the proper response to the actions of madmen? Raze the site, start fresh, and comfort one another as human beings. Yes, check out the security systems, but realize all the locks and buzzers in the world can't always protect us from insanity. Hope lies in our sense of community, for in that we find support to begin each new day knowing that the world, it's weather and inhabitants, is for the most part ungovernable.

And take a lesson from the old ways of the Amish -- a little less media, a little more faith, a lot less vengeful anger and more forgiveness does not add up to weakness -- it is strength and true dignity.

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