#1161 – Dick Bernard: Two deaths on a lovely and lonely beach.

Thursday morning I woke up to a bit of news that two people had been found by a solitary kayaker, dead on a beach in Washington state.

Solitary Kayaker, from note card of Wenatchee Foothills published by The Trust for Public Land*

Solitary Kayaker, from note card of Wenatchee Foothills published by The Trust for Public Land*


Nothing about that kind of tragedy is particularly unusual: such events are every day on our news. It seemed to have been a murder/suicide. The death was 1500 miles and several states away from me.
But there was something else in this news: one of the dead was a teacher in a nearby Twin Cities suburb in which my daughter is a school board member. He was about to begin his 14th year as a teacher in an outstanding elementary school that has been attended by four of my grandchildren beginning more than 10 years ago. Indeed, two of them will return there with several hundred other students two days from now.
Over the years we’d gone to many school programs there; probably there will be more this year.
Last Wednesday all was probably normal over there. Overnight, everything changed in a single piece of news**.
This will not be a normal beginning to a school year for the young people or their teachers and other school personnel.
The teacher’s Dad had also once been Superintendent of the school district, and in fact, I had met him once or twice when he was employed as an administrator in another nearby school district. He was a decent person, doubtless a good Dad to this teacher who was now dead.
Succinctly, this anonymous tragedy far away had become, for me, a matter of family.
Now these deaths on a Washington beach intersected with my own “circle”, and with the circles of hundreds of others.
There was, of course, more to the story.
The deaths apparently were directly related to apparently credible allegations of sexual exploitation of at least one, and perhaps more, young people by those who were found dead. The couple were male, gay; their alleged victim, a minor male, also gay, probably high school age.
So, into the conversation comes the matter of sexual abuse by people – in this case, a teacher – of vulnerable children. And the business of sex, and gays…inevitable topics.
Suddenly, everybody in the circle becomes at least a little suspect…what did they know about their child, their colleague, their friend?
There is fear, and guilt and all of the attendant negative emotions.
For a period of time, everybody will be ensnared in the web which began for some reason at some point in the past.
Years ago I kept a handout from a workshop on how the response to such a crisis will go. It seems pertinent to share, now.
(click to enlarge)
Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.


Other than offering support, as a parent, as a grandparent, there is not much I can do.
All I can say is that we are all family, far more than by the narrow definition (parent, child, house).
Life will go on in this fine school, and school district; for the affected families what was normal will forever be changed.
My hope is that there will be lots of serious conversations about how we all can do better.
And my best wishes go out to everyone who is now or will soon be in the schools of America and every country.
Give them even more support than usual this year.
* – Trust for Public Land sent this card some months ago as part of a fundraiser. Their website is here.
** – I am deliberately not printing specific names, places, etc. The news is very well known in this locality. It is the sad nature of the incident and its aftermath that is the topic.

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