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Owing it to our children

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John Newkirk

Our lives are full of routine and mundane days, punctuated by moments of gobsmacked reality that makes us wish to God for just another routine and mundane day.
That April day started out like most others; dew-covered grass blades bowed beneath budding aspen sprouts, newborn calves gamboling in the meadow, and mountain bluebirds returning from their winter range, clothed in the same azure as the Colorado columbine. A day’s worth of sunshine made the pastures greener, but a day’s worth of driving had me looking forward to hanging my hat, shuckin’ off the boots and setting my feet on the hearth.
But then the phone rang, and life would never be the same.
“Can you come to the church?” she pleaded. “Something terrible’s happened!”
It was the supervisor from my volunteer job as a local youth facilitator. She was sobbing and going on about a shooting, multiple casualties and distraught, hysterical children.
“Whoa,” I said, “Can you slow down?  School shooting?  Where?”
“Columbine,” she replied, “Please come over now. The kids need familiar faces. They need to know we care. Please — I gotta go.”
For a moment I wrestled with a voice that told me to just keep on driving: “What good can you possibly do? You’re not a trained grief counselor. Go home. They’ll manage just fine without you.”  But a stronger voice prevailed, and I made my way to the church on West Bowles Avenue, where the community was already gathering inside.
A well-dressed, dignified woman stepped out of the car next to mine. Her face looked familiar — firm and resolute but trembling slightly. She was a high-ranking public official; I recognized her from the newspapers.
It must have been an odd sight to the birds overhead: a cowboy and a lady pensively walking side by side down the long, gray path to the church doors. No words passed between us; none were necessary. Just one look into each other’s eyes and a solemn nod of the head.  
But as we walked along I felt a deep, compelling urge to reach out and join hands with her, like Carton and the seamstress from “A Tale of Two Cities.” There’s strength and comfort in knowing we don’t have to face these things alone. In today’s world, though, such a gesture — no matter how genuine — could be misinterpreted, so I didn’t do it.
Awaiting us inside was a scene no one ever should have to face. Frantic parents, teachers, cops, media, counselors, students — some looking to me for an explanation I didn’t have. I tried my best to be a pillar of strength, but in the end I collapsed to my knees in tears along with the students beside me, machismo be damned.
It was then, through the wailing and the sobbing, that I felt a tender hand on my shoulder, the hand of a woman — firm and resolute, but trembling slightly. I reached up and took it, and at that moment whatever differences we may have had going in — social status, ideology, political views — they all vanished as we stood together in solidarity.
There’s a sinister Pied Piper out there trying to spirit away our children. It’s high time we all join hands to stop it. It’ll take more than just pointing fingers at the NRA or the Armalite rifle because the problem runs much deeper than that.
By all means, let’s get out there and protest: let’s protest the Hollywood hypocrites who sanctimoniously stand against gun violence but then strap on multiple assault weapons for their latest “action-adventure” film. Let’s protest the purveyors of ultra-violent video games that normalize killing and give first prize for the highest body count. Let’s protest a system that won’t hesitate to politicize our students yet spends little if any time on character development.
And along with our protests, let’s never be ashamed to join hands for “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, and whatever is admirable.”
We owe it to our children.

Longtime Coloradan John J. Newkirk raises cattle on a ranch near Conifer.  He was educated in Colorado, Cambridge (England), and New York State and is former Secretary of the Jefferson County Board of Education.