There was a time when statistics stated everyone will know of someone who knows someone suffering from AIDS. Not long afterward, statistics spoke up again and reported that everyone would know someone or be directly affected by cancer. Unfortunately, statistics barely whispered with the attack on Columbine, Sandy Hook, how many others? And as recently as the Parkland shootings that we now see the words ‘gun violence’ on the news with unfathomable regularity. Children being killed in their classrooms. Adults being killed at their jobs. Families sitting in church. No one prepared us for such heartache. Watching the devastation of a family shattered. Maybe finding yourself saying a prayer as you put your child’s lunch into their backpack. Hugging them a little too tight.
Today, without any pride, I can say I have experienced all three of these statistical nightmares.
The first was in the mid-1980s. A brilliant man who wrote symphonies and lived across the street from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City was the brother of a dear friend. A vibrant, talented man wasted away, literally. Some of the nurses refused to enter his room at the hospital in Westchester. I was asked to bring my boom box (a large cassette recorder) and watched as a doctor wrapped it in plastic. Assuring me that although they did not know the full extent of the disease, he was certain I couldn’t catch it from the machine being placed in his patient’s room. “But, just in case, let’s wrap it in plastic,” the doctor said in a cheery voice. I waited until he walked away and quietly removed the plastic before entering the quarantined room. My friend’s brother listened to his favorite classical composers as the hours of his life slipped away. I stood at his bedside, looking at an unrecognizable face, a skeleton body under a thin white sheet the weight of which hurt his skin. His passing silent.
Cancer has affected more people than I would want to admit. From my uncle Andy, a chain smoker. To Rita, who was a self-proclaimed gym rat, who went to the doctor because she thought she pulled a muscle in her back. It turned out to be stage 4 small cell lung cancer. She died in less than six months after the diagnosis. Leaving a child, she adopted just a few years before. To my dear sister-in-law Maureen, one of the most positive, caring, and completely selfless women I’ve ever known died from breast cancer. It was caught early, there was a question in the August mammogram, but the center who did the first test, and sent the letter saying she needed to come back immediately, was having some sort of mammogram special, and they couldn’t schedule her sooner than three months. She was told it was probably nothing, so don’t worry. Maybe if they had scheduled her sooner she wouldn’t have suffered so much. Her light and happy voice forever gone. We feel her absence every day.
But the end of May 2019 confirmed what statistics announced is the new normal. We would know someone affected or be directly involved in gun violence. That came true for our family when a man entered a business in Cleveland, TX, and shot and killed the secretary. Then he waited and shot two men who arrived for work that morning. This directly affects us. One of the men shot was my son’s boss’s father. His aunt, the secretary, his uncle severely injured. The murderer ran, he was chased and turned his weapon on himself. Which didn’t do a damn thing. Some people may say justice was served. It doesn’t feel that way to me. It doesn’t justify his actions or reasoning. He was being evicted from the property. Not paying your rent will cause that. But shooting and killing another human or yourself wasn’t productive, to be understood, or stand for change. That choice won’t help pay for overwhelming medical costs, rehab, therapy, or a funeral. It doesn’t solve anything, it cuts deeply and wounds anyone involved for the rest of their lives.
How many of you are affected by gun violence? Well, you are now if you know me. You have become part of a statistic. You cannot help but be affected by this one individual’s action. I can only hope it does not come any closer to you and your loved ones than this blog. So what do we do? We fought AIDS, we are fighting cancer. WE have to keep fighting, researching and work together.
WE must work together, or WE are going to fall apart. WE must find common ground for the good of everyone and not just the privileged few. Whether it be background checks, longer waiting periods for gun permits, or maybe come up with something no one else has offered yet. But the only way that will happen is if we each listen. Do not be so quick to judge no matter what your views are. Really listen and make an effort to understand the why behind the words. I’d take a guess that each why is different too. Each is valid and should be respected, be it you agree or disagree with them. Disagreement doesn’t mean wrong. This doesn’t have to be black or white. It can be a collaboration of ideas. No one has come up with a quick fix. Because it is complicated, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying to untangle it and make it manageable and functional. WE just have to keep trying. Keep communication open and be willing to do better for everyone. So that those who come after us will have positive things, responsible things, and meaningful things to say about us. Not to brag, but to simply understand the why behind the words, to form a solid foundation, so we can all move forward together.