One afternoon in the first grade, I was on the bus heading home. I was about to learn a lesson in responsibility, actions and consequences but I didn’t know it. It was, as has been the case in much of my life, and incident I caused to happen.
When I look back on the times I have ‘gotten into trouble,’ my actions usually resulted from shame, fear or anger – there was a lot of that around my house to be sure. This incident was from another cause – my overweening desire to be liked and be the center of attention.
I was having an animated discussion with a kid named Brian. What we were talking about I don’t remember but I do remember I was playing ‘the little professor’ role my grandpa Tanski tagged me with.
I was supposed to get off the bus at the corner of Wilson Mills and Thwing. About half a mile from my stop Brian said “hey, isn’t your stop coming up?” I remember replying ‘no, no, not for a while.’
To this day, I’m amazed that my desire to prattle on trumped common sense. Of course I knew where my stop was. I even remember looking. But I couldn’t tear myself away from my grand exposition of whatever the Hell I was talking about.
A few seconds later, Brian said something along the lines of ‘dude, seriously, this is your stop.’ Even the bus driver looked back momentarily in the mirror and slowed a little bit, but not seeing me, she kept on going.
A few second later it dawned on me that I had, indeed, missed my stop.
I ran up the aisle to the bus driver and begged her to turn around and let me off. She said she couldn’t do it; probably due to the rules of the Chardon Local Schools bus system. I didn’t understand it at the time, but she was responsible for me and now, much her to dismay, she was more responsible than usual.
So here I was, trapped on the bus, taking it to the final destination – the bus garage.
And no amount of begging and pleading could convince the bus driver to let me off. At that point, I would have walked back a few miles if I had to.
So back I went to sit with Brian. Even as a child, I could never hide my emotions – my face always gave me away.
‘Dude you’re gonna be in trouble.’
Every minute that went by, the panic increased. Unknowingly, the panic of my parents was increasing at the same time as, at some point, they had come home and, surprise! I wasn’t there.
A first grader, of course, has no idea of parental panic. I was just convinced that my parents would be pissed for the simple reason I missed my stop. I was not thinking of the lurid, horrible fantasies that were playing across their minds of my abduction and torture or perhaps I was hit by a car walking home and was in the hospital – or morgue!
At the bus garage, the driver put me in her car and drove me home. All I remember about that was her car had a red bench seat and she scolding me. Well, that was OK because I deserved it. I felt horrible and stupid. How could I have allowed this to happen?
I don’t know if the driver called my parents from the bus garage but they were waiting in the driveway when we got back.
They thanked the driver profusely.
And then I got it. And I got it good.
I got screamed at really well, mostly by my father who learned the trade of a good dressing down from his Marine Corps drill instructors.
I mean, right in my face, spittle flying and everything. I don’t think I was hit, but if I was, I probably have blocked it out of my memory.
I thought about this incident today for no other reason than a memory came to me when I was a parent.
You know, you drive and your mind wanders and if you’re me, like staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m., bad memories seem to pop up and I land up processing them for the thousandth time.
When my younger son, who was afflicted with autism (is that the correct term? I don’t even know anymore), decided to take a hike while my then wife and I were drawing him a bath, I felt that panic. We had only turned our backs for about half a minute and he was out the door, in stocking feet, headed down the street.
I ran out to the street and looked both ways – I did not see him.
We got lucky. There was a couple in their front yard.
“Are you looking for a little boy,” they asked. “He went that way.”
It was a miracle they didn’t call child services on us. To this day I am forever grateful.
But at that moment, I had a pretty good idea of where he was. Sure enough, he had ducked into the schoolyard playground next to our street and was sitting on the swing with a big smile on his face, waiting for us to push him.
Autistic kids have a great need to keep to their schedule and an uncanny sense of time. It was 6 p.m. It wasn’t bath time; it was ‘swing me’ time. And we had thrown in an unscheduled bath and he was having none of it.
Both boys are grown now.
But we still worry. And always will.
Kids don’t get it and you can’t expect them to – until they have kids of their own.
So when I think to myself – ‘they grew up so fast and I didn’t treasure those moments like I should have,’ I think back to the terror of that evening on Chase Drive and can only imagine the terror in my parents’ imagination on Thwing Road on that long ago afternoon in 1969. I have mixed emotions.
So what is the grand point I’m trying to make here?
It’s this: night after night on the news, we see mourning parents who have lost a child or a brother or sister to violence. It doesn’t matter where – in Pittsburgh, in Chicago, in Charlotte, in Tulsa, anywhere. And I think many of us have become inured to the agony of their grief as these images parade across our screen. I think we do that because we choose not to identify with the mourners.
Also, there seems to be so many of them that we’d be overwhelmed if we invested emotions in every one of them.
And there is ‘compassion fatigue’ that has been talked about for decades.
I remember when I was a child my mother and I were watching the news. A high rise apartment building was on fire and people, faced with the terror of the flames, clung to the window ledges until they finally let go.
My mother was crying. “Oh my God,” she kept saying, “Oh my God!”
She was a school teacher. Every child in her classroom was her child. Every child in that school was her child. And they would remain so for the rest of her life. She didn’t see random bodies falling to their death; she saw someone’s child.
|Last night in Charlotte|
‘Parent’ is an interesting term. Of course, the first dictionary definition is “a mother or father.” But the second definition, as a verb, is this: “be or act as a mother or father to (someone).”
The root is from Latin: parent- ‘bringing forth,’ from the verb parere.
We bring forth.
We create the world for them.
They, in turn, create another world for those they bring forth.
This world, where death is random, hearts are hardened and everything seems to be coming apart is not the fault of any one person or organization. We as the children brought forth created it. We as the parents of those children set the stage.
|May 4, 1970|
You can take the view that parents are solely responsible for their children and that people are solely responsible for their actions. I used to think the same thing when I was younger because I had no idea of a world that existed in which not everyone could rise above their circumstances and not everyone has the parenting I had to learn to make good value judgments.
I suppose we could just turn off the news. I want to, but I can’t.
What I would like is that for image of violent death, we consider the grief as a parent; the panic when the call comes in in the middle of the night; when they fall to their knees at the feet of their dead child; when someone sees the cell phone footage of their child dying on the street. That once, that life was someone’s child. And we were all someone’s children. And at least once, our own parents panicked and feared the worst.
We created this world, not George Soros, not the Koch brothers. We did. And having sown the wind, we reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8).
Paulo Coelho said it best:
“Whenever someone dies, a part of the universe dies too. Everything a person felt, experience and saw dies with them, like tears in the rain.”