The Community Matters series at People’s Light is a special program for me. It draws together an exciting array of people around subjects of importance, and our topics to date have run the gamut. For our next installment, we will read Face to the Wall by Martin Crimp. A play little known and rarely done. It is fifteen minutes long. The reasons for selecting it are universal, timely and to me, personal.
Earlier this year my son ran into my room in the middle of the night, shaking. He recounted and tried to make sense of a nightmare in which someone systematically targeted and shot students stepping onto a ride at the Spring Fair. He told me that the bad person saw him. I held him until he fell back to sleep. I did not.
My son is in first grade. He attends a local public school where he recently participated in a lockdown drill (a requirement of schools in more than half of US states) in the event of an active shooter. There was no direct mention of the potential threat in front of these young students, but my son intuited its purpose. Parkland wasn’t far behind us then, but we hadn’t watched or listened to the news as a family. We hadn’t talked about school shootings, and yet somehow the threat of such violence had permeated my seven-year-old's imagination.
I was in high school at the time of Columbine. My understanding of the world fell apart in a day. School had been a sanctuary for me until then. My son’s experience reminded me of my own reckoning, though I was a decade older than he is now.
I cannot rationalize my son’s terror. It infuriates me to think so little has been done in nearly two decades to make us less vulnerable to these terrorizing acts, especially in our schools. Instead, we absorb shooting after shooting after shooting and normalize the deaths of children. What do we really know about preventing such events? How many will it take? Why wasn’t Columbine the wake-up call? Or Sandy Hook? Or now Parkland? Just because it keeps happening doesn’t make it normal. There is nothing normal about teenagers and young adults gunning down their classmates and teachers, or complete strangers. There is nothing normal about elementary students practicing lockdown drills in their schools. This is insanity. These horrific events happen again and again and we do nothing and somehow expect different results. Take this for what it is – complete insanity. We need to take stock now. We need to confront our greatest fears.
Face to the Wall explores these cycles of violence – it opens on a school shooting scenario. I first read this play shortly after graduating from high school. Because of the impact the Columbine shooting had on me, this play deeply resonated with me at the time, and has haunted me since. Each year, I wonder if I should include this piece in our Community Matters series to help us confront our public health crisis. I always opted not to, considering it too dark. And yet, the lived reality continues to eclipse the fiction. So, this year I changed my mind.
With the platform that I have, this reading is something that I can do – engage a panel of individuals with perspectives and expertise that span this subject in a host of ways. About a hundred people will experience this piece and discuss it. That’s where I’m starting.
Regardless of party lines, politics, rhetoric, I wonder if you, like me, want to end these cycles of unnecessary violence? If so, what will you do?