Thursday, March 01, 2012

“Words and Innocence, Lost”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows here is a purely personal reflection. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone at Chardon High School and their families.

Words are hard currency for a writer. Like bricks and mortar for a builder, or asphalt for those on a road crew. They are the clay from which we form useful thoughts and expressions. The paint for our canvas. The tones that comprise a melody to be sung.

But when words fail a journalist, emptiness is the result.

Such a moment arrived on Monday, February 27th, as I pondered the tragic events at Chardon High School.

My day began with an altered routine. Instead of work, I had a doctor visit scheduled in Madison. Coffee fueled a determination not to be late. Innocuous news and chatter echoed from the radio. Then, Cleveland morning host Bill Wills read a report of shots being fired in Geauga County.

Suddenly, the greater timeline was broken.

I sent a text message to my sister - the first concern being for Steven, her youngest son who is a student at CHS. And for his fellow classmates. Then, as an afterthought, I posted a status update on Facebook:

“WTAM 1100 just reported gunfire at Chardon High School. What???”

Becka offered a brief reply. A SWAT team was at the school. Everything had been locked down. She turned to WKYC-3 for live coverage. I did the same, but then left the television running as a last sip of coffee disappeared. It was time to be on the road. My doctor was waiting. Outside, it was a sunny day. That seemed unmercifully ironic.

The medical appointment proved to be a nearly pointless exercise. I was completely distracted. We discussed safety issues in school more than health concerns. Afterward, I headed directly to Chardon.

I contacted my sister again. What about Steven?

She said he was working at Hillcrest Hospital, as part of his school duties. Two of the students were brought directly there, from Chardon. Three others had been taken by life-flight to Metro in Cleveland.

Helicopters buzzed over the city. There were emergency vehicles and communications vans everywhere.

I parked a short distance from the school, and checked for updates on the Internet. The Maple Leaf had information provided in real time, through cyberspace. Everyone around me seemed to be on their phone:

“(I have) stayed on Facebook and Twitter via my cell phone all morning - and the news was out there, way ahead of the traditional media. This is a different world.”

Much had been written about the use of social networking during events like the Egyptian uprising centered in Tahrir Square. Or the tsunami in Japan. But witnessing this unruly data stream first hand created a surreal experience. It didn’t seem possible. Not here. Not in Chardon.

“It's different when something like this happens right at home. When the names and faces are those of your family and friends and neighbors. All of a sudden, there is no escape. Turning off the TV or radio doesn't make it go away.”

By nightfall, the Chardon Square was packed. Prayers were being offered up at the Assembly of God, and at churches all around the city.

I surrendered at last, returning home to Thompson after a long day. My eyes were growing heavy. It was time to log off for the night:

“I lived on Maple Avenue in Chardon, in bygone days. Literally within walking distance of CHS. My first wife, brothers-in-law, and all the kids in our family went to school there. This is so devastating. Tonight, I am glad for this day to end.”

I closed my eyes while remembering a passage from the Christian Bible, in the book of Numbers, chapter 6. It was one I had heard at the end of church services here at home, many, many times:

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

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