April 29, 2007
Tombers asks an essential question
On a gray, rain splattered day in November, 1963 I was sent
my Catholic school in the middle of the afternoon because
Kennedy, President of the United States, had been assassinated
Dallas, TX .
I vividly remember standing in the living room of our house
Avenue, looking out at the streets, wet, gray and empty; water
splattered against the window panes. I recall the exact brown
stain on the windows; the position of the chairs in the room,
my mother was standing behind me when I asked in a tense,
strained voice: what kind of country are we?
My young mind was attempting to comprehend the incomprehensible
put it within a context of the world as I knew it then, that
November 22, 1963.
When I had heard there had been a shooting at Virginia Tech,
hour or so between the announcement of two deaths and the
of slaughter, I remember distinctly thinking something along
of: another school shooting, two dead, okay, sounds not bad.
full horror of that day was revealed, I found myself slipping
kind of shock and the question that came to mind was that
one I asked
as a child when confronted with the death of a President:
what kind of
country are we?
It is the question I have not been able to shake in the maelstrom
media madness that has pummeled us since the gruesome number
students killed was announced. It has been wall to wall, 24/7
of this sad event.
CBS described this as a made for TV tragedy and
that it was. And
that was certainly in the mind of the 23 year old killer who
chillingly, coldly, planned and calculated both the event
legacy he would leave behind: he ensured he would not soon
forgotten. He did that when, between murders, he mailed a
multi-media package to NBC News in New York.
After hours of internal angst, NBC went to air with elements
package. While I can understand the pressures that seem to
do it, I also fully empathize with the parents of victims
appearances on The Today Show as a rebuke.
In the hand wringing, in the frustrated conversations, in
searching, I have heard views as disparate as some discussing
gun control and others advocating that we all arm ourselves.
to one set of commentators, their point was that if all the
had had guns, someone would have gunned down the gunman.
As I write this, the news cycle is wearing down; Virginia
beginning to recede in the wake of newer events, also mostly
And while we are doing our hand wringing and our commentating,
avoiding the essential question: what kind of country do we
want to be?
What struck me was that when I heard of two deaths, my response
that it was not too bad. I/we have become inured to the staccato
stories of school shootings; they seem to have become a part
fabric of American life and we have ceased to be surprised
levels of violence. It took a shattering tragedy to make us
My concern is that the dialogue that has resulted is circular,
solely to the length of the news cycle and that we will do
address the severe and fundamental issues facing the country.
issues are reflected by a young man, clearly in deep distress,
killed ruthlessly and used the media to make sure he was remembered
they are reflected by the manner in which this tragedy has
addressed by the country. We grieve, we commentate but there
be no centered will to change the course of events. We grieve
mourn and we have, somewhere in the quiet of our souls seem
accepted that all this will happen again.
In the public dialogue, we are not addressing the question:
of country do we want to be. And until we in public and private
out that question, we will continue to fail to move ourselves
in a more
positive direction, to re-discover the America we all believe
but somehow we have not been able to find.