My Bus Ride and the Children of Sandy Hook

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.

15 Responses to “My Bus Ride and the Children of Sandy Hook”

  1. David Van Taylor 06. Feb, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    Amen, John. Thanks for feeling it, and for writing it.

  2. Michael Endicott 06. Feb, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    Lovely read and powerful sentiment. And impressed with the thoroughness of the “Scream” art project to include historical theft. You conveyed the sense of freedom and joy that only a “well regulated” society can provide for its children in contrast to a “wild wild west” regimen proposed by the intransigence of the NRA.

  3. Ken Bernstein 06. Feb, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Are you sure you meant Kathy Hochul? She is no longer in Congress having been defeated in November. She served less than one term having been elected to fill a vacancy and as far as I know never cast any votes on gun issues

    • john merrow 06. Feb, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

      She received donations from the NRA. I did not check the election results. My bad

      • john merrow 06. Feb, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

        We just emulated those voters and removed her….

  4. Bart Nourse 06. Feb, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    John: I traveled from Marion, MA to Newtown, CT one week after the massacre for the silent memorial on the Town Hall steps as the church bells pealed for each victim. Beforehand I went up to a TV cameraman to ask him which leaders would be on the steps. He asked me, “Are you a cameraman?” I said, “No, I’m just a teacher from Massachusetts.” He answered my question, and I walked away in the windy downpour. Moments later I felt a tap on my shoulder. The cameraman had ran after me. “Sir,” he said, “You’re not JUST a teacher. That’s the most important profession in the world.” Like you, I welled up. If only law-making politicians could hear bells and comments like those instead of money-talking lobbyists…..

  5. Steve Buckley 06. Feb, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    John, the rifle used to slaughter the children at Newtown was not an automatic rifle. That correction made, the issue of mass shootings in this country is as complicated as the issue of our failing education system. There are not simple solutions. Banning semi-automatic rifles and 30-round clips is as effective as national achievement tests. There is a lot more involved– our culture, our seeming disregard of self-responsibility, and the current fascination with “be happy, do your own thing.” I has been very fashionable, especially among the literati, to poo-poo religion and moral strictures, and now we are reaping what we have sown.

    • john merrow 06. Feb, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

      It was an AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle, and so my friend Steve is correct, but he is also splitting hairs here because, equipped with a multi-round magazine, it is a killing machine.
      Why does anyone need such a weapon?

  6. Kathleen Lyons 06. Feb, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    John – Thanks for writing this piece. I have a first-grader in my life, and reading about your bus trip made me feel a kinship to you. If more of us could spend time with first- and second-graders, we’d all be better off. Nice.

  7. Steve Crouse 06. Feb, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    John, many agree with you, a majority it seems. The problem is who is going to remove these super guns from their owners ? Local police, FBI , Army Rangers, ATF, yada yada yada…., We know how these gun people think and they will not give them up without a fight.

    Forget the gun show restrictions, its too late for that. There are already a million “Bushmasters” out there , who knows how many. Was it that NRA nut Charlton Heston who said “no gun should be without a home” ? This will take a couple generations at least.

    Lets get rid of “Cizens United” first, peel back he real label on the box of money delivered to Mr Congressman.

    Steve Crouse

  8. Joe Nathan 07. Feb, 2013 at 7:11 am #

    Thanks, John,
    Hope each reader will contact their members of Congress and urge them to support President Obama’s proposals to help deal with this.
    Yes, there are many, many guns already out there. Nothing will eliminate these guns. But Obama’s proposals will help people with mental illness, potentially preventing some future tragedies. Obama’s proposals will help keep track of guns that are sold in the future. And his proposals will help reduce the ridiculous and unneeded magazines of bullets that allow killing quickly.
    So thanks and hope others will contact members of Congress. (Yes, I have)

  9. Larry Tietz 07. Feb, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    I have already written my elected representatives (emailed, and that wasn’t easy!) about supporting a complete ban on firearms. I got a nice thank you for your concerns, we will keep you posted.

    Unfortunately, I don’t believe it is a small minority that is in favor of gun ownership, nor is it political donations that shape legislators votes (it is the fact that the NRA can get a lot of people to the polls).

    There are any number of times good people stand on the sidelines and don’t speak out or take action.

    I believe the only useful bill is one that bans all guns. This country was built on a rugged individualistic concept. Those times have certainly changed. We need to be a more supportive, connected nation. There is clearly a divide about that and how or whether it can be achieved.

    If we don’t recognize the need to get along, globally, we shall all surely suffer together at some point. Tolerance and compassion seem to have taken a back seat to religious (or religious like) fervor, whether actually religious or for a cause. It’s been going on for thousands of years. Maybe we could set a different kind of example here.

    • Ellen Simonis 07. Feb, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

      I do not agree with nor support a ban on all guns. And in the PNW – that will never pass. I hunt to feed my family. I do not need a large magazine to do that – 3 bullets is plenty. However, I do need a gun. I also bow hunt, btw. I feel that an either/or discussion muddies the waters right now in a way that is not helpful. Lets begin, and see where we can go. But to start with a total ban ensures total defeat. I am also a teacher, and a mother of a first grader. I support the measures proposed.

  10. sue kelewae 07. Feb, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    Well said, John. I just wish that those who SHOULD read your post would. Unfortunately, they only hear one another…..

    • john merrow 07. Feb, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      How do we get a conversation going? Or is it a matter of a political battle, with winners and losers? The latter is the American way…..

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