Red Head

(the day after the Parkland shooting)

There is something about 4 am & February, but today, instead of arriving on little cat feet like fog, it arrives with a thud.

A hard stop wake.

A dead body.

Red hair?

No, hair matted in blood.

No, too young.

Someone I know?

No, a body, one of the many, that students had to step over in the hallway.

Consciousness comes slow and all of the sudden. But with my beloved country, consciousness–with guns–is unbearably long in its approach.

I think back on how it unfolded in me. I was about 25 when a sense of my own mortality hit me, along with the biological urge to procreate, along with a new career in education, along with children being killed in crossfire, not in countries I couldn’t place on a map, but in cities in my own nation.

I began to talk to loved ones and friends about the moral obligation to avoid illegal drugs so as not to be complicit.

When the shootings expanded into public places–post offices, McDonald’s, the mall–I began to argue guns.

My husband had been firmly in the “Guns don’t kill people, people…” mindset, but his consciousness was unexpectedly pierced, not by my passion, or by mass shootings, but with comedy.

On a long Friday night drive from New Jersey to his grandmother’s place in the Berkshires, I stoked the gun argument to help pass the time and to keep us awake as we made our way in the dark through sleepy New England towns.

I’m not sure if we were in New York or Massachusetts when we put on the radio only to hear a comedian agreeing that guns weren’t the problem. He then went onto mock that absurd perception with the comparison of gun deaths in the USA to those in the UK, zeroing in on the police.

Despite this piercing, it was a slow shift in perception for my husband who had been a card-carrying member of the NRA and a proud owner of his late uncle’s hunting rifles, one of which sat under our bed and another which later hung over the fireplace when we relocated to Vermont.

Columbine came when we were new parents. “I don’t want you to teach high school,” I said to my husband, clearly identifying the connection between toxic masculinity, adolescence and school violence. (He was an elementary school teacher at the time, but was certified to teach High School History too, and moved to the high school just ahead of our first born.)

I wrote to the local paper about our responsibilities to children and teachers, and removed violent films from our personal entertainment repetoire.

Our boys in large part (particularly in their formative years) grew up without gunplay and without video games making killing a sport.

My husband got in touch with the confusing grief he felt as a boy when he shot a rabbit in the backyard of his grandmother’s house.

Did any of it make a difference?

What’s the point?

Isn’t this hopeless?

Consciousness is watered drop by drop until the bucket is tipped.

May it be so, now.

And if it is not, may we each respond in ways that allow us to say one day:

I helped give shape to new consciousness in this nation.

Because I do have hope, particularly when I see men cry on television and women becoming fierce, and when I arrive at a work conference with an out of town presenter who points to her red hair and offers, “Did you know that your state has the largest percentage of red heads?”


(Link to the original letter written to the paper in 1998.)


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