The reaction to President Obama's speech on National TV in the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, CT may have been many things to many people, but in dissection of what he said, it is important that "we are all parents". That is a powerful statement and in the true spirit of community connection, we are automatically endowed as stewards of the next generation. Community connection is key, which leads me to this true story dating back to 1960 in our little town of Northport.
"Back in the day" as they say, our family rented an apartment from local real estate mogul, Albert Zillian at 52 Bayview Avenue, a stately building that contained seven apartment units. Mr. Zillian and his family lived in the large home at 55 Ward Avenue, overlooking the apartment building and my pal at the time was Bruce Zillian, the landlord's son, an adventurous young lad who usually had some kind of an agenda. One particular day, we mixed zinc with hydrochloric acid to make Hydrogen which we used to fill a balloon. We attached a note "to whom it may concern" with instructions on how to contact us, signed our names and launched the it into the wild blue yonder. As it disappeared from sight, we went on with our day.
About three weeks later, Bruce received a card in the mail postmarked Helsinki, Finland which read. "Dear Bruce and Dave". "Received your balloon here in Helsinki and appreciate your fine effort in sending your note all the way to Finland, Regards, Olaf". We were of course overjoyed at the success of our mission.
The fact is, that the balloon never made it to Helsinki at all. It barely made it across the street, and crash landed in Northport Park. The community connection key lies herein: Mr. Weber (or in our NY accent, Mista Weba), the grounds keeper was raking up leaves when he noticed it and read the note. He knew Albert Zillian and promptly turned it over to him. Mr. & Mrs. Zillian who were anticipating their vacation in Helsinki took the note with them and mailed a card back with the Helsinki postmark. It all turned out to be a big prank but this story runs much deeper than the prank.
President Obama struck a chord with me in his speech at Newtown, CT when he said "we are all parents". Sadly we are not all parents, but we all should be. If we were, we'd be recognizing the warning signs of mental illness and raising red flags to help avoid tragedies before they happen. Nowadays, nobody wants to get involved. There are lawyers and special interest groups that discourage common sense, In Northport, back in the day, if I just misbehaved, in public, there was no use trying to hide it from my parents. They knew about it before my plate hit the supper table that same night, a form of media we knew then as "friends & neighbors". Long before cell phones, the "app" was "tela-woman". Friends watched out for friends, families came together and secrets were few. If there was a fire, merchants threw down their aprons to answer the call. If there was an emergency, all hands were on deck. If there was a special need, the townsfolk pulled together as a wholesome and integral community.
I may be locked into the values of yesteryear; I'll plead guilty. Sadly today, towns like Newtown CT and every other town on this continent are subject to modern-day apathy that is fostered by isolationism and political greed. Mr. Obama is correct when he says that we cannot accept this as "routine". "We can do better". I firmly believe that if we had a better handle on mental illness, more direct traditional family communication and less texting and tweeting, we would be better prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
God be with all the families of the fallen.