Friday, October 20, 2006

Growing Older

Yikes. I did it. I applied for Social Security. Wasn’t it just last year that I helped my mother do that? Where have the last twenty years gone?

Getting older has never really bothered me. Some people obsess about turning forty, or fifty, or even sixty, and I can laugh at the “mourning” parties with black frosting on a cake and R.I.P. balloons, but it never really hit me in the gut until I stood in line at the SS administration office amidst all the white-haired ladies and realized I was one of them.

Not that my hair is white – just nicely streaked – and for the record, I am taking early retirement, so I’m not as old as you might be thinking.

I can remember my mother telling me some time ago that she will often pass a mirror and do a double take. “Who is that old lady in my house?” Now I know what she meant, and I’m sure you do, too. Inside we are still young and wrinkle free. In our minds we can still do a full day’s work and run a marathon in the evening. It’s the body that’s on the wrong page.

Last week I was talking to a friend who also has a horse and likes to ride. We were telling stories about our youthful adventures on horses. The wild ones we rode. The thrill of riding bareback at a full gallop. The satisfaction of staying on that one horse that liked to buck for the first five minutes under saddle. Now we both get nervous if our horse does a little jiggy dance and threatens to rear. Old bones are much more brittle than young bones.

Which brings up an interesting question. Should we stop activities that could be dangerous as we age? I know some people willingly take on a more sedentary lifestyle by choice. Others bow to the wishes of adult children who are rightfully concerned for safety.

However, I’d like to think we can find some balance between caution and staying active, even if some of the activities make our kids say, “You did what?”

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

School Violence

Last week most of us probably watched the news, stunned at the horrible tragedy in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania where Carl Charles Roberts IV entered the Amish schoolhouse and shot 10 girls on October second. I know I couldn’t believe it, and the first thought I had was, “When is it ever going to end?”

When I first wrote my book about school violence in 1993, the research depressed me and I hoped that things would improve. Things had to improve. Children were killing each other, and certainly we could find ways to make the violence stop.

Unfortunately, not much changed, and instead of instances of one child being shot because he or she dissed another child, we had Columbine. The day that news broke, I cried. So many young innocent lives cut short. And I just couldn’t imagine what madness drove Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold into their school in Littleton, Colorado with an arsenal of guns and knives and compelled them to start shooting, killing twelve students and one teacher before turning the guns on themselves.

That tragedy spawned others and when it was time for more research for the third printing of my book, the statistics and stories were even more troubling. It was like some of the worst video games had stepped into reality and kids were playing with real lives.

People can argue all day long that they are just games and have no bearing on school violence, and I say that is a bunch of crap. People aren’t dreaming up these horrible acts of violence. The ideas have to come from somewhere. I’m not saying that a kid plays the game and says, “Wow, this is so much fun, I think I’ll go whack someone.” What I’m saying is the images of the games are planted in the brain and acted on later. A premise, by the way, that is shared by a lot of social scientists.

Of course the video games are not the only cause of violent behavior and probably had little to do with the recent school shootings that have been perpetrated by older men. And I certainly can’t begin to explain why that man in Pennsylvania decided shooting Amish girls was the solution to his emotional problems. Those social scientists are still trying to come up with an explanation for that.

Out of that latest tragedy, however, has come one bright ray of hope for mankind. The day after the shootings, the family members of the girls who were shot forgave Carl Charles Roberts IV. What a powerful testimonial, and one does not have to be Christian to get it.

One of the elements of forgiveness is not to wish evil on the person who wronged us. We don’t have to love that person or embrace that person, simply step back and let go of the need for revenge. That’s a pretty good lesson for all of us, and I sure wish those radical Muslims would get it.