It took a moment for my eyes to focus, but when they finally did for the first time, the old clock next to our bed read 4:18. Like most days, I was fully awake within seconds. What was different today was my desire to remain in bed a few moments longer because I was comfortable and warm. It felt good, so instead of hopping up and starting the day, I gave myself another 10 minutes.
As I lay there, I started to think, and soon my thoughts turned to what would greet me when I got out of bed. Some things I knew: the dog following me down the stairs expecting to be fed; a cold spring wind hitting my face as I put her out to roam the yard in the early morning darkness; the smell of coffee brewing and the coldness of the hardwood floor as I made my way through the first phase of my morning routine. In other words, the “normal” stuff.
But that’s not what had me thinking. What I was thinking about – what took me out of my comfort zone as I lay in my warm, cozy bed -- was what I didn’t (or couldn’t) expect or anticipate this morning. In other words, what had happened “out there” overnight; incidents, accidents and tragedies, the things that have become more common – too common -- with each passing day.
I’d just started to learn more about what happened Saturday, or early last week (in places like Indianapolis and Minnesota and Virginia and others), and when my feet hit the floor this morning, I knew – I knew – if some senseless, preventable tragedy didn’t happen overnight, one would in the near future, bumping the aforementioned issues to the back pages, yesterday’s news, and soon to be footnote for so many who weren’t directly involved or affected.
As I hit “brew” on the coffee maker, something else popped into my brain that has been rattling around for weeks, rearing its head every time there’s another shooting, another incidence of hate, intolerance, or “error in judgment” (to completely understate the level of some of these events).
“How many more?”
It’s a question I have, born out of a song lyric; specifically, one you can hear in the background toward the end of “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The song reflects what happened during a Viet Nam war protest at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, in which four unarmed students were killed and nine more injured at the hands of the Ohio National Guard.
Back in 1970, something like Kent State was a rarity, at least in the U.S. It shocked people, and though I was too young at the time to really understand the full scope of what happened, it has become a historic model for so many things that go tragically wrong when people disagree, critical parts of a system or process are ignored, or when one individual or group forces its will upon another.
In a little more than two weeks, people will commemorate the lives lost and affected by the Kent State tragedy 51 years ago. Days after that incident, CSNY wrote, recorded and released “Ohio,” and with it, rhetorically asked us and themselves, “How many more?”
The whys and wherefores of Kent State have been discussed, debated and written about for five decades, and for many, it has become little more than a page in a history book, an incident that happened too long ago to have much effect. I get that. I never truly understood things like Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination or events like the Three Mile Island incident because they happened before my time, or at least before I was old enough to know what they meant to us individually and collectively as a society.
It was only after I was an adult and truly learned about these and other historic, tragic events that I realized their impact on those who lived through them, but more to the point, those who didn’t live through them, the victims.
The thing is, the history we’re living through now isn’t happening occasionally or appearing as a series of unrelated anomalies. What’s happening now – like so many other things in our modern world – is taking place at hyper-speed, and in many ways, these things are connected, maybe loosely, but there is a connection. Ironically, that connection is the polarity of our society.
Every week (sometimes every day), incidents that change lives, communities and the world are occurring at such a rate that while they are no less tragic, they are no longer “unbelievable.” How could they be? They’re simply too common.
To the contrary, what would be unbelievable to me (in the best possible way) is if we could go through a period of time where we didn’t see so much violence, so much hate playing out on our streets, so much anger and intolerance …
… so much tragedy.
Sadly, the unbelievable has become truly the every day. But what I really fear is that too many of us will begin to accept this as part of a normal society. I hope I’m wrong. God, I hope I’m wrong.
I realize I’m stating the obvious when I say we must do better on so many levels, too many to list here. Because let’s face it, while we all have our “go-to” reasons and culprits, our pet scapegoats and explanations for why all this (pardon the term) bullshit is happening, this disease has metastasized throughout every part of our societal body. And until or unless we – all of us – are willing and motivated to look beyond our own wants, needs and biases and work toward something that will help heal the entire body and not just a part of it, we risk spending the coming days and years in fear, asking that same question CSNY posed five decades ago. “How many more?”
Peace. Please … peace.
© 2021 David R. Haznaw