Repost: And So This Is Christmas


I used to love the news. Over the past several years, though, I’ve found that it brings me more stress and anxiety than information. As a result, I’ve done my best to avoid it. Every so often, though, a news story breaks through my wall — and one such item was the recent school shooting in Oxford, MI, which — according to CBS News — was the 28th school shooting of 2021. (There were 10 in 2020. Thank you, COVID.)

As I watched the news of what happened in that Michigan high school, I couldn’t help but reflect on a post I wrote nine years ago about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, CT. I’m as sad today as I was then.

This is not the post I planned for today.  I originally wanted to write something funny about one of my favorite holiday films, Christmas In Connecticut, or poke fun at myself for crying over Christmas carols, like Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).”

Today, though, I have a need to write a long post (my apologies) about a very different Christmas in Connecticut, a very different Christmas in America — and the idea that I, and I think most of us, cannot stop crying — with or without Christmas carols.   For me, the overwhelming sadness is just below the skin.  It doesn’t take much — the news, a moment of silence, an overheard conversation — to unleash a flood of tears.

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I also find my sadness has woven itself between anger and confusion.  To reference another classic film, Network, I want to do as Howard Beale instructed: “I want all of you to get up out of your chairs.  I want you to get up right now and go to the window.  Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

And there is the crux of the issue.   Since the incident in Connecticut, so many of us have asked the same question, “What’s happening in this country?”  The truth is, we all know what’s happening.  In fact, it’s been happening for so long and without any results that all we have left is our anger and fallow fields.  Personally, I’ve been angry since George W. Bush’s first presidency.

Since starting this blog, I have tried very hard to keep politics out of the posts — and I will do my best now.  My first draft, though, was complete vitriol.  I walked away from the keyboard, and upon my return have decided to contain myself — at least a little.

What I want more than anything right now, right this very minute, is some time in the garden — to think, to dig, to process, to move, to understand.  It’s December, which is not an optimal time to be in the garden — but lessons learned in the garden are timeless, regardless of the season or the circumstance.

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Let’s begin with the soil.  It’s the foundation of all good and healthy growth — and there is a problem with America’s soil.  We all know it.  We all sense it.  It feels and smells depleted of nutrients and organic matter — and yet, we all feel helpless or powerless or reluctant to amend it.

Ignore it long enough and see what develops.  Weeds.  Pests.  Fungus.  Blight.

That’s why the head gardeners in the land must create policies that balance basic gardening principles with overall garden wellness.  The time has come for a sensible gun control policy.  We, as a society, can no longer afford to fall back into the usual political posturing and caving into the wants of special interest groups.  Surely, we can come up with something that protects Americans’ right to bear arms with the common sense that a weapon suited for a combat zone should not be one of those arms.

Before I actively began to garden, I did a lot of reading and research.  I think we all did and continue to do so. It’s important to know the characteristics of plants — do they prefer sun or shade or a bit of dappled sunlight?  Do they bloom in May or July?  Are they suitable for my climate zone?

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That’s what we do for plants — and so it boggles my mind that individuals in some states can purchase guns and unlimited ammunition without a background check.    I can’t even purchase an over-the-counter cold remedy without showing my drivers license.

There’s also the issue of invasive plant species — anyone who has tried bamboo should have an idea of how quickly a clump can easily become an out-of-bounds forest.

It’s the same idea with weapons.   It’s possible for an individual to leave his home state (which has strict gun control legislation) for a neighboring state (which has not-so-strict gun control legislation), make a purchase, and then transport that weapon back to his home state.  Sounds like an invasive issue to me.

I only wish my same sex marriage license could so easily cross state lines.  So much for love conquering all, I guess.

Let’s say that a garden is neglected, leaving open the possibility of greater problems.  Take one aphid, for example — just don’t turn your back on that aphid or you’ll have an infestation.  When it comes to pest control, gardeners can take one of two routes: a completely organic approach or one that requires some chemicals.  Either way, gardeners have to follow the directions and monitor how, where, and when any products are used.  This helps to maximize treatment.

So when we begin the talk on sensible gun control, there also needs to be the talk about mental health and psychiatric care in this country.  There are so many, many people in need of high-quality, long-term, and even residential treatment, as well as medication, the usage of which needs to be supervised in conjunction with counseling — but how far will insurance and affordability and access go?

What Child Is This

Our land is actually a community garden.  At least that’s what I understand these words to mean: “This land is your land, this land is my land. . .”   That’s why it’s so disheartening when some member gardeners do the garden a disservice.

The news media has done a wonderful job of bringing the news story to us — non-stop.  I’m not saying they shouldn’t report it, but I have a feeling the people in Newtown would like some privacy to mourn.  But each news show has given the story its own theme music, stylish graphics, and non-stop chatter from reporters.

The nightmare is now entertainment and a ratings grabber.  Each time a newsperson uses the phrase, “One of the worst school shootings ever,” I cringe.  First, because the statement indicates that there is more than one school shooting to use as a comparison.  Second, because I fear they have just drawn a line in the sand for the next shooter.

And let’s not forget video games, movies, the Internet, and television.  Thanks to them, we — children included — are given a steady diet of violence and disrespect.  Many reality shows, such as “Amish Mafia” and “Jersey Shore,” have turned rude and crass behavior into the new normal.  In order to be shocking and “entertaining,” violence and outlandish behavior need to become more graphic.  Just look at the violence in an old James Cagney film and compare it to what is seen today in our living rooms — or even in the bedrooms of many children.

Angels We Have Heard On High

As a result of this gardening neglect, opportunistic pests have been allowed to thrive, allowed to spin webs of ignorance, rudeness, and lack of civility.  I am referring to a shopper I heard in a local box store, crowded with holiday shoppers and children.

I was a few aisles away when I heard his gravelly voice yelling into a cell phone, presumably to his wife: “Where’s the f!@#$n layaway.  I’ve been all over this f!@#$n store and I can’t find the f!@#$n layaway.”  No one, including myself, did anything to stop him or correct him.  Instead, we allowed him to speak that way out of fear.  I’m not proud of my reaction — but this is the state of our garden, overgrown and jungle-like.

What’s a home gardener to do?  After all, we can’t have a community garden without a community.  I want to know that I’m safe in my garden, my workplace, my mall, my school, my bank, my movie theater . . .

Let’s be honest: the garden can be a scary, untamed place — more so because there are so many variables working against you, and chances are the head gardeners won’t provide too much assistance to make your tasks easier.  To establish your garden, it’s probably best to take charge of your plot of land, no matter how large or small.

The first step is to make sure to create a fertile, nutrient-rich environment, where tender young shoots can flower and flourish.  In doing so, you’ll have to remain vigilant to keep pests and diseases at bay — even if it means making difficult decisions, such as refusing to purchase products that do nothing but poison your plants.

I also find it’s important to talk to your plants.  It keeps them healthy, and I believe they tend to reach higher.  When you do talk them, be sure to celebrate their beauty and strength, as well as warn them of the dangers lurking in the garden.  You know the dangers — the things that seek to nibble at the stems and leaves, ultimately devouring them of their essence.

Christmas Ornament

You should probably also be mindful of the intruders.  Speak up and let them know that you do not appreciate the toxic goods which they make readily available.  These products are often packaged to appeal to a young, impressionable market, but be wary of the skull and crossbones.  That logo is never good.

Lastly, be sure to tell the head gardeners what you want and need for your garden.  That’s the responsibility they accepted when we elected them to that position.  There is no greater lobbying group than the American people — I mean, gardeners.

It seems that there is no Christmas carol that holds more meaning this year than the lyrics written by another human being who was prematurely taken from us because of violence, John Lennon.

Have a very Merry Christmas,

And a Happy New Year,

Let’s hope it’s a good one,

Without any fear.

15 thoughts on “Repost: And So This Is Christmas

  1. “Personally, I’ve been angry since George W. Bush’s first presidency.”
    Well, you’re blessed with more patience than I; I’ve been angry since Ronnie, Nancy and the Astrologer’s presidency.
    Thank you for an inspired essay.

    • Hi Sandy. I had to chuckle at your comment. I was young and newly out of the closet when Reagan was in office, so I certainly had my share of anger, especially when so many of my friends were becoming ill and dying of AIDS and the federal government politicized a public health crisis. (Sounds similar to today.) Then, there was my anger during the Bush years — but all of that pales in comparison to the feelings I’ve had since 2016. That’s a big reason why I limit my news intake and spend more and more time in the garden or reading. Thank you for your comment. Enjoy the holiday season.

  2. It is interesting to read your thoughts and good to know that there are Americans who reflect critically on what is happening, including the school shootings. I have never understood the need for private citizens to have firearms as I grew up in a country without them. I know you have a long history for it, but it’s really quite hard to understand for a Dane. And it is terribly sad for the many innocent people and children who lose their lives.
    Take care and let’s hope together for a good new year.
    Lisbeth

    • Hello Lisbeth. I appreciate hearing your viewpoint on American life — and I want to stress that there are many Americans who have similar feelings to me. I think for a variety of reasons — political polarization, 24-hour info news that divides, politicians loyal to private interest groups and corporate money, and whole host of other reasons that are too complicated to get into here — the government is incapable of doing anything. I wish you a very Happy Holiday Season and a Healthy 2022!

  3. Dear Kevin,
    I am right there with you. Each year America seems to sink deeper into the pit of quicksand. Violence is becoming the norm. I too would hesitate to approach an out of control individual unless he was harming an animal, then I would jump in with both feet or a frying pan.
    If you have not seen my last post, please check it out. I have funneled my worldly frustration into dull projects in the garden…both necessary. Downsizing the garden was essential, as I just found out I face a hip replacement this winter if I am to carry on next spring. Not the gift I had hoped for.
    When toxic news seeps in, turn your back on it and stroll your beautiful gardens.
    Peace, Diane

    • Hello Diane. I’m so sorry to hear of a hip replacement, but I’m glad you’ve found a way to cope. It’s funny that you mentioned dull projects. I’ll visit your site and leave a comment with the details. What I cling to these days are the good news stories and the beauty in our crazy world. I have to hope and believe that there are many people who think like we do, but their voices have been drowned out by outrageous tweets that seem to get the headlines. Have a beautiful holiday season, and easy surgery & recovery, and plenty of health & happiness in 2022!

  4. Kevin, my friend, you have so earnestly shared from an emotional center with deep truth. I wept the other night watching a report of this week’s school shooting and actually thought to myself that it was “good,” strange word in this context, but good that I still cry. Gun violence and mass shootings are so common that it could easily turn us numb. I’m not. But like so many have said over the last many years, I knew when Sandy Hook didn’t change us as a culture that we were in such deep trouble it was likely we wouldn’t recover our common humanity. I don’t have a lot to say beyond letting you know how much I appreciate your beautiful writing ability, which helps to clarify the both the complexity of the situation, but also shows how simple common sense can be! My granddaughters practice “active shooter drills” at school. We should all weep, but mobilize.

    • Hi Debra. I was trying very hard to not watch the news of the shooting. I really wanted to move on and not get distracted. One day, though, I stood in front of the television, watched the coverage, and cried. I had a similar sense of relief that these events could still stir sorrow and pain, that I hadn’t just accepted our norm — which is really abnormal. When I worked in a school, we also had our active shooter drills — and there is an odd sense. As a social worker, I had an office. During the drills, I would either be by myself, with a one or more students, are guiding various students out of the hallway and into my locked room. I would have to be responsible for them. If there had been an actual shooter, all three scenarios were scary. Also like you, Sandy Hook was the event that convinced me we’re on our own, that we cannot trust our leaders to do the right thing, that our lives are up for grabs no matter where we are — in a school, a church, a mall, a workplace. How often do you look for the emergency exits when you enter a building? That’s the new normal… I’m glad I was young when I was, but I’m so sad that this is the world children and grandchildren now have. This is their normal — but should it be? These are the moments when it’s nice to have a garden. Please, take care — enjoy the holiday season — and may you & yours have a Happy & Healthy New Year.

      • Your care and sensitivity is a key factor in why I think you are such a wonderful person, Kevin. It isn’t easy to be a sensitive individual in today’s callous and self-centered society. I despair, sometimes. There was police presence at my granddaughter’s middle school this week because some young student had apparently made a remark that alarmed his friend, who then alerted the officials. Frankly, it sounds like a stupid 12-year old boy and there wasn’t any teeth to anything after all. But it’s alarming.

        I do hope you and Joe have a wonderful holiday season. We need to find festivity and frivolity in our lives, to offset some of the stress that will always be with us. 🙂

      • Hello Debra. Thank you for that, but how scary for your granddaughter and everyone involved. Sadly, we live in a culture in which everything, even off-handed remarks, must be taken seriously because the consequences for failing to act are so great. I think of when I, as a school social worker, participated in lockdown drills with students. It’s a frightening scenario and I hate that this is their/our new normal. Even when I recently worked at a local box store, we had to do yearly trainings for an active shooter scenario. I think we need a little Christmas, right this very minute.

  5. Written from your wonderful soul, thank you. Every time we did lockdown drills, stay-in-place drills, and shelter drills, another piece of innocence was lost for our students and for us. This country is in real trouble for so many reasons. Weapons developed for combat should only be available to the military while on active deployment. There is no reason for a private citizen to own a combat weapon. Would the most recent shooting have happened if the weapon was not available to the disturbed teen?

    • Hi Maria. I do not miss those drills, but they have a tendency to stick with you each time you’re in a public place and you hear a loud noise. I agree with everything you said. According to reports, the shooter and his parents had met with the principal earlier in the day to discuss his behavioral issues. His father allegedly purchased the gun for him. His social media presence was filled with warning signs. Based on this alone, I have a lot more questions. A lot!

  6. Thank you for reposting this, Kevin. I remember reading it originally but it deserves to be read again and again (and by many.) And yes, one of the relatively few upsides of 2020 was a “break” in the steady stream of mass shooting reports, at least for that year. I too cannot understand the failure of too many adults in this latest situation to (a) recognize a threat and (b) proactively doing something about it. The parents, the teachers, the school administrators, all failed spectacularly in their duty as adults. And don’t even get me started on the higher levels of responsibility (state and federal governments and representatives) regarding this subject, or I’ll be on my soapbox forever! 🙂

    • Hello M’Lady… I would like to hear the school side of things, especially when the parents reportedly refused to take their child home with them, only to have him resume his school day. At that point, in my opinion, school administration should have called law enforcement to have him removed, as well as a Child Protective Services report against the parents. There are many layers to this story. By the way, I’ll happily share the soap box with you.

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