Communicating. Parkland. Littleton.

Associated Press photo front page Minneapolis Star Tribune February 14, 2018

Friday came this powerful Facebook post from my daughter, a suburban Middle School Principal.

“Every single day I walk into my school as the principal, it crosses my mind. “Will today be the day it happens here?”

Every single day I wonder about the student we suspended that said horrible things as they were escorted out of the building.

Every single day I think about the non-custodial parent desperate to see her/his children.

Every single day I think about the phone calls advising me of another “ugly divorce” or a domestic abuse incident. “It was a tough night. Can you let his teachers know he might be a little off today?” the parent asks.

Every single day I think about the multiple entrances to the building that I check to make sure they latched properly when the last staff member or student entered in the morning.

Every single day I think about all the places someone could hide and lay in wait.

Every single day I think about all those people who use “because it’s my right…” to acquire arsenals of weapons “because they can” in America.

And every single day I think about how easily the children can access those weapons because “By God, it’s my right to own these weapons.”

Every. Single. Day.

Your “right” to own guns is NOT more important the safety of my students and my staff and my own children and their teachers. If you get angry about gun control conversations and want to resort to “because it’s my right”, you need to check yourself. If you resort to “We need better mental health services or awareness” but don’t want to engage in a conversation about gun control in America or affordable health care for all, you need to check yourself. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and (& and & and & and…)

Every single day before you assert “Because it’s my right…”, I ask that you put yourself in the shoes of every parent who has buried a child as the result of gun violence. I ask that you put yourself in the shoes of the parents whose child’s body lay where they died inside that Florida high school all night because they were part of the crime scene. I ask you to show some respect and compassion and put those innocent lives in front of your “right”to own a gun. And I ask you to do this…Every. Single. Day.”

It took courage for Joni to say what she did, yesterday. Joni has that courage…. Violence in our civilized society is controversial, and even acceptable.

(click to enlarge)

Cross Hill above Columbine High School, April 1999, granddaughter Lindsay by the crosses, late April, 1999


I think back 18 years:

April 20, 1999, I was returning to my office from a meeting in north suburban Minneapolis. A bulletin came over the car radio about a shooting at a school in Littleton Colorado.

There were no details. Just one of those news bulletins.

Littleton. That was where my son and family had lived since 1988. In April, 1999, their daughter, my granddaughter, was 12.

Soon, the word “Columbine” entered my vocabulary. Either by e-mail or phone – I forget which, now – I learned the shootings were at the high school, and that my family was okay. I looked Columbine up on the then-version of Mapquest, but that was of little help. It was mis-located. I was soon to learn that my family lived little more than a mile from Columbine High School.

They still do.

The horror began to unfold in the evening news of April 20. My son was pretty sure he’d seen the two killers in a local McDonald’s restaurant not long before the carnage began.

A couple of days later: another meeting, in another suburb. This time, with a group of about 20 of us in the Minnesota School Public Relations Association professional development group, almost all of us school PR people. Of course, we all knew about Columbine. Somebody mentioned how impossible a job it must be, now, for the Littleton school PR person (Columbine was part of Jefferson County CO public schools). I mentioned my relationship to Columbine. Instantly we realized what was, even then, a reality: every place, every person, is in some way or another stitched together. Columbine wasn’t them; it was us.

Mostly we talked by phone or in e-mails then. Facebook, the earliest innovation for instant communication, was 5 years in the future, then. YouTube 6 years away. Twitter 7 years…. How easy it is to forget. Joni’s Facebook this morning was not imaginable in 1999.

By circumstance, that week in 1999, I had my ticket for a planned rendezvous Apr 24-30 with a brother and sister in Zion and other parks in Utah. I had purchased the round-trip with a stop in Denver and a short visit with my Littleton family.

Saturday morning, May 1, in a gentle rain, we walked slowly up what come to be known as “Cross Hill” in Lambert Park, overlooking the high school. We were among hundreds of sombre visitors. It was nearly two weeks after the massacre, and you could still feel the intensity. At one point, Rev. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral, along with camera crew, walked up the very muddy hill near where we were standing. Doubtless the video was for his Sunday service the next day.

Back home, National Teacher Day – I believe it was May 4 that year – I was scheduled to give a short talk to educators in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, where I had worked and lived years earlier.

I decided to wear the same clothes I had worn a few days earlier, walking up Cross Hill above Cross Hill in Littleton. I asked Joni, then a teacher, who had gone to school in Anoka years earlier, if she wanted had any recollections that I could share. Joni instantly remembered her second grade teacher, Clem Gronfors, who stood out for her many years earlier, and I mentioned him, and in the audience someone started to cry. She was a teacher, Sue, who was delivering “meals on wheels” to a now very elderly and ailing Clem.

Saturday, February 17, 2017: We probably all thought, those horrible weeks in 1999, that we had seen the worst, that we would not ever see something so horrible again.

How wrong we were.

We’ve all experienced simply the most recent example of an even more horrific Columbine, in Parkland Florida. Columbine was just the beginning. Over and over and over again. Denying an ugly reality. This seems what we have become.

How do we all respond from today forward?

The ball is in each of our courts…. This is no time to be a passive citizen.

If you missed the preview week of “The World Is My Country”, and now wish you’d seen it, here’s another opportunity, till February 21. Password: wbw2018 (lowercase)

Today’s Just Above Sunset, The Hammer Drops. The Mueller Indictments of the Russians.

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