As I searched for a topic for this week's column, nothing was forthcoming. My mind was consumed with the tragic deaths of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The fact that 20 of the victims were innocent 5- and 6-year-old children made the situation even more emotionally upsetting.
The sport of bowling, I felt very strongly, was just not very important right now.
Virtually everyone in the country has been affected by this senseless act of violence. It pains us to think of the young children being laid to rest this week at such a tender age. I went to a funeral home on Wednesday to pay my respects to a friend, but it was a vastly different situation than the ones taking place in Newtown.
Over the years I was a member of a foursome that included my best friend Al Falter, his father-in-law Dick Bittner and his uncle Gene Jannucci. We played many rounds of golf together and had a blast every time. Gene passed away this week and it was his family that I went to see.
Gene was such an easy going happy person, and a smile almost always lit his face. He could get upset when he hit a bad tee shot, but the anger didn't last long. Every year the four of us would play what we called the Macaroni Open, so named for my fondness for macaroni and cheese. Gene's family informed me that in his last few weeks, he recalled fond memories of his past that included our golf outings.
Though we were all sad to see Gene leave this world, at age 82, he had lived a long and wonderful life. He had ample time to create the special memories that he was able to reflect on during his last days.
The children of Newtown never had the opportunity to live long enough to create memories of their own.
It was also difficult for me to deal with the fact that the adults who were killed were educators - my chosen profession. As teachers we are charged with helping students learn. While they are in our care, we are focused on their education. Their safety in our classrooms is a given - or, at the very least, should be.
I can visualize these people doing everything in their power to protect the youngsters, "their" kids. That many of these brave souls had to perish as well deepens my grief. It could very well have been my classroom and "my" kids.
What can be done to prevent this type of thing from happening again? I don't have the answer, indeed no one probably does. If someone knew the solution we would have had it in place a long time ago. I do have one suggestion though and I would like to tell you a story to make my point.
About halfway through my teaching career I was having a particularly tough day at school. My students were not giving me the effort I thought they should and I was very unhappy. When the last bell of the day rang and he kids headed for home, I went next door to a colleague's classroom. There I vented my frustrations.
He listened very quietly while I ranted, even though he likely had his own problems. I went on for a full five to 10 minutes, complaining that I had done everything I could think of to motivate my students. I was getting nowhere with them and was at my wit's end. I finished my diatribe by using a familiar phrase suggesting that it was not my fault - I had done all I could do about the situation.
Summing up I said, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."
My fellow teacher, who had not uttered a word the whole time simply said, "Yes, but sometimes you have to stick its head in the water."
His message hit me like a ton of bricks. He was saying that I should never, ever give up trying to reach my students. When you think you have tried everything - come up with one more speech, one more angle to reach out to them. After all, you are a teacher and that's what we do!
I never forgot those words of wisdom and I think they are pertinent to where we are in this country as we grapple with "what to do now." As a society we cannot get to the point where we give up and say there is nothing more we can do. These types of tragedies are going to happen and are unpreventable. If we get to that point, if we become desensitized to the killing of innocent people - then we are in trouble.
In a sense we are all teachers. We must try to convince everyone that human life is precious. We can do that by our actions. Whether we are talking to a friend or a complete stranger, we should use the words please, thank you and you're welcome. They are terms of respect and using them reinforces our belief in the importance of every individual. We should use them several times a day. Every day!
To the people of Newtown who are trying their best to cope with this unthinkable nightmare, I would like to deliver a message from the Tiffin area bowling community. We cannot hope to say that we understand the depths of your sorrow, so we won't even try. Instead we would like you to know that you are constantly in our thoughts and prayers.
Al Stephenson is The A-T's bowling columnist.
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