Letter from Texas: Make My America Great Again, Please

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Jacob Scott Hendon

Dear Radnor,

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Florida victims” is not enough. They were not enough after the shooting in Sandy Hook. The “thoughts” were not enough after the Pulse Nightclub was fired upon. They, again, proved inefficient in stopping the Parkland, Florida school shooting. At some point, we will have to realize that brooding over this issue is not going to stop the massive problem that grows before our eyes.

Previously, as a young child, I would fantasize about how my teenage years would play out. I wanted to live up to what my mother, father, and grandparents lived out when they were once teenagers. I vividly remember the picture my grandmother painted for me when telling how her and my grandfather first started dating.

“Well, we first met on the main road of our town everyone called ‘The Drag’. It was before the days of social media and cell phones, ” she recalled, “Teenagers would drive back and forth, up and down that stretch of road with several different spots along the way where groups would pull over and park their cars to visit with one another. Your grandfather and I met on The Drag and a spark ignited between us.”

She went on to explain how they would call each other from their separate houses before they went to sleep. They laid in their beds talking to each other through their rotary phones while the sun faded from light blue to yellow, then to a deep red and onto a dark violet sky that was dusted with stars. She would tell him about her desire for a family as the cool breeze from her open window would brush against her face. He would ask her if he could take her to the theatre so they could watch The Sound of Music together. She would go with him and they would sing happy tunes by The Beatles on the way there and back, but before she knew it, they both fell asleep with their windows open and dreamt what their future would hold. At peace, they fell in love just as they fell asleep.

I craved the same for my teenage years, but I have lost hope in having anything closely related to what they experienced. My generation lives in a time where our realities are filled with a subconscious fear. I would not be able to sleep soundly without my security system activated, and furthermore, I would not dare leave my window open while I slept.

Aurora replaced an afternoon out at the theatre with a night-in watching Netflix. Burlington traded a Saturday dedicated to purchasing back-to-school clothes for a Google search for much needed khakis. Las Vegas let a family stay home and watch a Macy’s Day Parade on their television. Parkland elicits a sense of fear in students, and has them question whether or not education is worth the risk of getting shot.

In reality, looking back on my grandparents’ teenage years, their generation did not live in the utopia I pictured it out to be. Their generation had similar fears for different reasons, such as getting drafted into the Vietnam War. Ethnic groups across the nation had a subliminal fear of racism in the age of civil rights. There will always be an issue for each generation, but as time goes on, the problems faced swell. Racism is still prevalent. Foreign affairs stir and fear arises in the homeland, and now guns are the next thing to add to the list.

Still, my grandparents’ youth seemed so serene in the way they explained it to me, but it would not be a fair comparison to hold their generation and my own due to one key factor: the media. My grandparents weren’t constantly blasted with information. They did not sleep a foot away from a phone that relayed some of the most terrifying news to them. Today, information is shared nonstop, and as individuals, we do not know how to cope with ourselves due to the speed of the media. We have become desensitized to shootings. The same technology that delivers us a speedy service of news allows predators for the next school shooting to thrive under private social media accounts. Let them have their freedom of speech, and set a fertile foundation for their racist, homicidal, and, nevertheless, numbing memes to flourish. From Instagram to Twitter and YouTube, these radicals hold a domain in which they are given a platform, and instead of acting alone, they now have an audience. It grows and blisters like a malignant disease that cannot be controlled, but heaven forbid they lose their right to free speech, because if they are targeted, I’ll be targeted too. We wouldn’t want to set a precedent that it’s okay to assume some people would become terrorists because that’s a recipe for chaos and a lack of privacy, would we? Our world has unintentionally tied a noose around us and it cannot backtrack. Free speech has to be protected, but it is the same principle that sets up the perfect trap.

Reports and videos capture Mr. Cruz, the shooter at the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attack, not resisting to police and swat officers when caught. This single detail is meaningful because it helps provide probable reasons for his motives. My prediction is that Cruz shot innocent people to incite fear into Americans. He, like many others who have done the same, wants to tear down the core of our nation. They want to extinguish all hope that still exists because with fast paced media, the public sees the damage, lets it ruminate, and moves on. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. As time goes on, shootings become perfunctory and less meaningful to people each time they happen. This is not saying that the lives lost in the recent shooting did not matter, but with repetition over time, it will wash away society’s emotions. We’ll see the terror and be glad it isn’t us, but it won’t move us for change.

I ask, what can be done? I would like to be able to say there is a magic sparkling button that came down from the heavens because we asked for one in our prayers, and the button could be pushed and poof— it would all go away. As marvelous as that would be, the reality is that change cannot occur. Gun advocates will stick close to politicians and stuff their pockets with money so they will keep their mouths shut in Congress, but even if gun reform took place, there would be something else. The problem is a broken society, and while tighter gun laws must be put in place to encumber a predator’s intention to spill blood, depraving the enemy of their weapons will not mitigate their lust to incite fear.

Going back to my grandparents, they lived in a tight bubble of euphoria. They lived under the notion that ignorance is bliss, and their youth was nothing short of pure joy. I just wish I could have tasted it before it ran out and lived to be apart of it before their dreams faded with the night sky.