By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — This space was originally reserved for some poignant comments written to me by a reader.
There was a moment or two back there last week when I thought today would be a good day to say a few words in honor of two dear friends who recently celebrated a joyous occasion in their lives.
And then Friday came.
That afternoon I paused in the office to watch the president — our president — wipe a tear away from his eye as he attempted — for the first time — to discuss the latest in a string of American tragedies involving wayward people and guns.
“Our hearts are broken today,” President Obama said.
“The majority of those who died were children — beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old,” he continued.
That was it.
For me, that was it.
As is now widely known, 20 of the 26 victims of our nation’s latest shooting spree were elementary students — bright-eyed little ones looking forward to Christmas vacation.
At that moment, as the president spoke, I couldn’t help but think back to the day all those years ago when I walked into the office and saw — for the first time with my own eyes — the images of the World Trade Center attack on 9/11.
The two events are not on the same level of magnitude, of course.
But they are equally difficult to take. They leave you feeling cold, numb inside.
It’s a feeling — that sick, horrible pain — that comes with trying to grapple with so many deaths, so many lives cut short too soon.
And this time, in Newtown, Conn., it involved near two dozen children.
As others have said, there really are no words capable of capturing the horror and emotion of it all.
Earlier in the week, by coincidence, I happened to watch a program on PBS about the shooting death of John Lennon.
The man who wrote “Imagine” — a clarion call for peace if there ever was one — was gunned down by Mark David Chapman in 1980.
I was just a kid myself then but I remember coverage of the event well.
In my house, the Beatles were played often and always. Our family — like so many others — took Lennon’s loss hard.
The world would later learn that Chapman’s decision to gun down Lennon in the prime of his life had something to do with The Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield and hypocrisy and such.
During his most recent parole hearing, Chapman said he was now “embarrassed” by the murder and chose Lennon “because he was very famous.” Chapman reportedly said he could have just easily shot Johnny Carson or actor George C. Scott.
Do guns kill people or is it the people pulling the trigger?
Whatever combination of nature and nurture is at work here seems to be working overtime of late.
People have been shooting one another for no good reason for years.
Sadly, it seems, only the frequency — and now the targets — have changed.
Those of us left trying to make sense of the violence can conclude only that whatever snaps in someone’s life to cause them to gun down “famous people” or little kids is, quite simply, evil. A sickness. A symptom of larger problems. A failure by all of us to recognize something’s not quite right or to help keep the hinged from going unhinged.
It’s a sign, I also believe, of the subtle demise of so many of those things our country once held so dear — God, family and country.
In other words, the proper order of all things.
It’s the sort of stuff that prevented generations past from opening fire one on another in crowded places.
It’s no coincidence that there was a time in American history when people regarded weapons as the last line of defense - the sort of thing used only in defense of home or country, reluctantly picked up duty called in far off places like Germany or Japan.
My father had shotguns in our house my entire life. He was an avid hunter. My uncles were the same way. For generations, people have owned guns for recreation or self defense.
The majority do not use them to gun down the innocent because, well, they knew better. They respected the damage their weapons could do, handled they safely at all times.
Beyond that, their moral fiber wouldn’t allow for such things. Truth be told, in most cases, they’d have a difficult time fathoming such plots, much less carrying them out.
Obviously, in light of all these recent shootings, times — and people — have changed.
No longer do deranged individuals seek out presidents or “famous people” to murder.
They grab their guns and go to the schools and the shopping malls and the beauty salons and the movie theaters.
What’s the answer?
Is there one?
Our pastor, I believe, put it in the proper perspective Sunday when she left the congregation with a few pieces of advice as they headed back out into the world for the week — a week in which many are preparing for the Mayan calendar and what they believe may well be the end of our world.
She reminded us that everyday’s a gift and anyone’s time can come at any given moment.
She encouraged us to hug our kids, appreciate our friends, forgive our trespassers and tell those we love that they are loved.
Because, dear friends, you just never know.
In this world, it seems, nothing’s certain — or sacred — anymore.