Empowerment through Language...

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Afterglow of a Dream Made Manifest

What a whirlwind few weeks. January was a full month of teaching in both Middletown and Watkins Glen. When I move from district to district, I also get to look at differences that geography and community culture create. The types of references and allusions that I am able to draw upon change from one demographic to another.

For instance, I find that students in a smaller rural town such as Watkins Glen have a stronger connection to the natural world and, in a way, the the cycles of life in a wider expression that just human. I can make reference to the way a hawk rides the thermals or the color of soil when it is turned over in spring as another shade of brown. Brown may be very different in a city environment.

I am also conscious of how city youth and rural youth are familiar with gun culture but in much different ways. Guns are common in rural homes but it has more to do with hunting and food. These young people use guns with training and witness death in tangible, unglorified ways. They have their hands in death and the purpose of hunting for not just the sport but the practical aspect of sustenance. We are also not talking about semi-automatic weapons with this but shotguns. Big difference that many legislators and Supreme Court Justices do not grasp.

In the homeroom sharing circle one morning just after the Christmas holiday vacation, the 6th graders were telling what they received as gifts and what resolutions they had made. One rosy-faced girl cherrily proclaimed that she had received just what she wanted, a pink BB gun. Wow...that was a surprise to me and I said so. She beamed, "Yeah! It's great!" Another girl said, "I have a blue one!" And they know how to use them well. It reminded me that I admired the fact that my friend's older brother had a BB gun when we were all kids. I was amazed and mesmorized, and terrified.

In the city, we are usually talking about handguns, which, to my thinking, have a singular purpose: to kill other humans. And there are a lot of incidents of this being the case. One young man in my hometown last summer shot a man on the street as they passed each other, strangers both. His reason, to the police: "I didn't like how he was looking at me."

Have we come to this as our way? Dehumanized to the point that a life is worthless in the perceived slight of another? I have thought that a way to deglamorize the whole world of handguns is to afford urban youth who are very isolated from the natural cycles opportunites to work on farms. To tend animals through births and slaughter, to collect eggs, to plant in spring and harvest in summer, and to hunt. To learn about the power of firearms and potential lethal aspects. To slog into the woods and take down a turkey or a deer, and then to clean them for butchering as well. Get a young person intimately involved in the life cycle this way and perhaps they will not be as cavalier with their own lives or the lives of others.

I had friend in college who was studying to be a gunsmith. He went everywhere with his rifle prominently positioned on his lap, across the table, etc. I would object to bringing a gun into my home and that spawned some animated conversations. One day he asked, "Are you afraid of gums?" I stated that I was. He challenged me to give him a tangible reason, additionally saying that guns are not the problem, humans are, in that they do not respect the power of a gun and life itself. He said, "I want to take you shooting. If you are going to be opposed to guns, I want you to understand why."

So we went out into the country with his rifle and his handgun and I shot both. The rifle was a replica of an 1863 Springfield (if I remember correctly), a buffalo gun intended to take down the steam engine of a bovine. It was the gun that Custer's troops used to kill Native children and women. It had an explosive power that would pulverize a human body. Its kickback left a deep purple/black bruise the size of a grapefruit on my arm and my shoulder ached for a long time. The handgun was a 44 with a trigger that needed to be pulled hard. Then I sort of blacked out for about 30 seconds and my ears were tainted with the assault of firing at close range. A huge chunk of the tree blasted away and I was dumbstruck. I had enough information as to why I am leery of guns. It is not the guns, is true, it is the person behind them and the intention. And the training...or lack of. How many 15 year olds who get their hands on a glok know how to handle it, much less truly respect the weight of its import or potential?

Just a always...

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