This was not the column I intended today. I had another one queued up and ready to go when the news about Uvalde hit. Uvalde … yet another place we’ve never heard of, like Parkland or Sandy Hook, whose name will forever be stained by tragedy. The rest of the world will not think of anything else about those places and names when they hear them mentioned.
For the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of sitting on an advisory committee on “gun violence” for the Kansas City Star as part of its multiyear focus on this issue. I’ve learned more about the topic than, frankly, it was comfortable to know. For instance, American has 4% of the world’s population, and 42% of the world’s guns. What more than that should I know?
While we were investing so many emotions, words and ink over which books are appropriate for our children to read in their libraries, 19 children were shot and killed. Children. My daughter teaches sixth grade, and through her, I hear her stories of life through their eyes. Fear of being murdered at school should not have to be one of those things to worry about at age 11 or 12.
I don’t have any answers today and struggle to know how to even close this. I’ll do what I normally do and borrow the well-written words of others to help me better frame my own thoughts. The poem below is from Miller Williams, a former Poet Laureate of the United States, and words I’ve shared before. It’s about children, also, and what we owe to them as a nation.
We add to our history yet another tragedy … but I know we all need hope on this Memorial Day weekend, when we honor and remember those who came before us. The fact that, on such a weekend, some families in a place called Uvalde are saying goodbye to their children challenges our attempts at hope. But we do owe them, and to those who came before us, and to our Nation, to find hope in our hearts. We must all strive to see “what our long gift to them may come to be.” How do we become the people we were meant to be? This week reminds us — we’re not there yet.
Brian Fogle is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.
Donate to SAAF’s Uvalde Strong Fund
Of History and Hope
We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.
But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands — oh, rarely in a row —
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.
Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become --
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.
All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit -- it isn't there yet --
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.