As the bus approached my stop this morning, I could see through the windows that lots of seats were empty. Great, I thought, I can read the paper on my way to work. But as I boarded the bus, I realized I was mistaken. Those apparently empty seats had tiny occupants, close to 40 little kids. Their joyous cacophony filled the bus with high-pitched musical chatter. From my vantage point–standing–I could see most of them. A few were reading, most were talking, and not one of them was manipulating an electronic device. One of the adults who was accompanying them told me they were on their way to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art, which is in midtown Manhattan. They were second graders, and their excitement was palpable and contagious.
Whatever morning fatigue I felt vanished as I took in the scene and tried to imagine them at MOMA. What would they think of Monet’s water lilies and Picasso’s strange and wonderful art? How would they react when they came face to face with “The Scream,” Edvard Munch’s famous painting?
Thinking about “The Scream” transported me back to last week, when my wife (a school principal) invited me to her second grade class. Those kids had visited MOMA, seen Munch’s painting, and then made their own versions, all of which were hung in the school’s entry hall. One morning two weeks ago in an uncanny (and carefully planned) echo of history, four of the children’s paintings disappeared, apparently stolen, just like Munch’s painting. The kids were upset, and so their (imaginative) art teacher brought in the school’s security chief, a retired cop, to investigate. Enthralled, the kids helped him search for clues. The case was solved on schedule, the morning I visited. The detective brought in the culprit, the school mascot, who was carrying the paintings and a big “I’m Sorry” sign. Everyone cheered and celebrated with cookies and milk.
Unfortunately, there was a downside to both of these wonderful times, an aftershock. It was the realization that these lovely children were one year older than the 20 kids murdered in Sandy Hook. They were enjoying life in ways that Sandy Hook’s children will not. As I walked back from school a week ago, and as I left the bus this morning to walk the remaining blocks to my office, tears welled up. Why is life so unfair?
But I think I know part of the answer: we stand on the sidelines and allow it to be unfair. We allow a small minority of (pick your noun–mine is unprintable) to control national policy and prevent sensible gun regulation. The Bushmaster automatic weapon that the young man used to murder those children and six adults is a killing machine, no more and no less. Magazines that hold 100 or more rounds are for mass killing, not for hunting or for sport. Neither has any place in a civilized society.
I wonder if Representatives John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Tim Murphy and Ben Quayle, Senators Harry Reid and Joe Mancini and the other politicians who take money from the National Rifle Association and then cast votes that please them have ever spent a morning in a first grade class, or ridden the bus with second graders? Perhaps that would affect their perspective.
But a better wake-up call would be the refusal of voters to put them, and others of that ilk, back in positions of power.