Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Nightmare and A Dream

It's been a week of roller coaster emotions here in our area, a nightmare that is real. Four police officers were gunned down just a few miles from here and though I didn't know the officers, the depth of emotion I feel is overwhelming.

My running buddy, Rick, is a member of the Lakewood Police Department, as were the murdered officers. Jenny's husband went to high school with one of the officers, my co-worker has a family member who works for the Lakewood PD. Another friend of ours works for the State Patrol, and another, the Tacoma PD. Everywhere I went, it seemed like there was a connection to the officers killed, or to law enforcement. Even if there wasn't a connection, everywhere I go there is mourning. Tears flow freely, and an aura of grief permeates all gatherings. Community, connections, the ripple effects of lives intersecting. Our town, our county, is, at it's core, a small town. We support each other, we reach out, we stand together.

I ask myself, as does everyone, how could this happen? How? How could a life become so corrupted that there is satisfaction is taking the lives of others? I will never understand...I had this thought the other day. I had a vision of the murderer as a small child. I saw him as a little guy of two, three, four. And again, I wondered. How did that child grow into a monster? I don't understand.

I don't have any answers, I don't know how to fix someone who is so broken. I do know though, that everything we do, every day, affects others. I do know that how we treat children, and teens, and each other, matters. I do know that children need the influence of adults in their lives - adults with values and positive attitudes, adults who know how to be serious and who know how to be fun. I know that adults need each other. We need support and love and companionship. We need friends who care, and more, we need strangers who care.

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to speak at a YMCA volunteer event. Here are a couple of ideas that I spoke about that are resonating with me again today:

A group of local service clubs, in conjunction with the local school district conducted a survey of 1500 6th, 8th and 11th graders.The questions were based on the 40 Developmental Assets that have been found to help children thrive and succeed. One of the questions on the survey asked if the youth felt valued by the community. Only 23% answered yes – leaving 77% or 1150 kids that did not feel valued by the community as a whole. Another question asked if the child received support from three or more non-parent adults. 45% answered yes, leaving 55% or 825 kids with less than three other adults in their lives. A third question asked about positive adult role models in their lives – 34% said they had those role models, leaving 66% without – that’s 990 kids who don’t feel they have positive adult role models. Bear in mind, this survey only covered a small portion of the kids enrolled in our district.

These statistics are several years old - I spoke in 2005 and I think the study was a couple of years old at that point. I'm including the information here to make the point that we - adults - need to make an effort to connect with our youth. The next idea is about how that happens - and although it is referencing the Y, it is true of anywhere that we gather:

The Y is all about relationships. We each walk in the door with an established sphere of influence – that is a circle of people we know, that we exchange thoughts and ideas with on a regular basis. Our sphere of influence might be through the schools, through church, scouts, 4H, sports teams, and clubs like the Rotary, book clubs or your own neighborhood. As we make connections and build relationships those spheres of influence broaden and intersect – creating a complex web of relationships that expand beyond the Y. That is called “building community”.

It is through building community that we can make a difference. It's the relationships that make a difference, it's the little things that make a difference - reaching out to a stranger, sharing a smile, a bit of small talk with the person in line behind you, swapping stories of parenting, looking the teenager with the wild hair and loose pants straight in the eye and saying hello, those are the steps.

This post isn't what I sat down to write. I sat down to talk a bit about running, maybe share something about the great time I'm having at work, all the regular stuff of life...but these thoughts needed an outlet, they've been swirling in my head since Sunday. My heart aches for the families left behind, for the friends and coworkers, for police officers everywhere. Call me what you will, but my heart also aches for a little boy lost, who somehow stepped onto the wrong path. The man was a monster, a murderer...but the little boy was just a little boy. My dream is that we can reach all the little boys and girls...and that we can help them grow into wonderful, caring adults...that's my dream.


justrun said...

I just cannot imagine. I don't know how a life gets on that path.

My heart and prayers go out to the family and community. And you are right, it's through building that community that will strengthen everyone.

Anne said...

I followed some of the coverage and can only imagine the pain your community is going through. Never underestimate the impact of generations of dysfunctional parenting on children, many of whom become incarcerated adults that are eventually released in even worse shape than when they entered. (I think I recall the gunman was a parolee.)

Some people are also born brain-damaged and never get the resources (for a variety of reasons) that might make them more productive and less destructive.

Wes said...

I hear you, Michelle, and for the most part, I agree. However, I have learned that you can do everything RIGHT and this kind of stuff will still happen, for various reasons. While we will never be able to prevent all of it, we can certainly do the things you mentioned and optimize our chances of beating stuff like this before it happens.

Great post!!

Donald said...

How awful ... There's nothing to say to ease the pain and anguish, and no way to understand why these things happen. Very sad.

Sarah said...

I wonder the same thing when I see the childhood pictures of serial murders, etc. How did such innocence go wrong?

This tragedy is so sad and senseless.

lizzie lee said...

Indeed it is a horrible tragedy. My son decided about a year ago to change careers and pursue law enforcement. With this tragedy he is more determined than ever. God bless the hearts of those men and women that are there just for us.

My son is taking Tue off to attend the funeral. If I could I'd do that too. It has been a state wide united sentiment.

TX Runner Mom said...

Such a horrible tragedy! As the wife of a police officer, this really hit home for me. Many prayers for the families (both blood and police) of those officers.

Jack said...

I think your thoughts go right to the heart of the problem. I think we all need to take some time and try to find an area where we can positively influence the young generations growing up among us. So many young people just want a little attention, someone who notices them and makes them feel like they belong. Who knows, maybe through our efforts we can prevent at least one youth from choosing the wrong path in life.