Wednesday, November 7, 2018

“Killing Time” by Bruce Madole

Every year now it seems that I hear news about another shooting in a school, an institution under lockdown, a profile of the killer or killers, a lamentation in print or media about the promise of those lives that have been cut short. Sometimes, it feels as though I’m hearing about such things every month. Those stories used to make me flinch, with a strong desire to run away and bury my mind in some other thing, something, for preference, that would be positive, uplifting, or at least distracting. For a while, the stories just left me depressed. Or angry. Always, however, they leave me remembering.
What I remember first about that day – May 28, 1975 – was the boredom, slouching un-engaged in yet another math class on the third floor of the canning factory that was our high school. And it was a great school. I enjoyed my classes there, but I didn’t enjoy math. So I was looking forward to lunch and only fractionally engaged with bi-nomial equations when the Principal made an announcement over the school’s PA system. All students were to remain in their classrooms. Stay out of the hallways. 
At the same time, outside the classroom window, I could hear – we all heard – the sound of approaching sirens. Police, fire, ambulances – I remember them coming from everywhere, like wasps to a picnic. Memory is strange, but that’s how I remember it. I heard no gunshots, saw no bloodshed, no victims. Others of my friends were not so lucky. One of my friends, John Slinger, was among the dead. But I didn’t know that, at the time.
Eventually, there was another announcement, telling us how to leave the school, by what route, and simply, to go home. But we didn’t go home. I remember, we looked for each other, in small drifting groups milling around at the edges of the school property, binding to the people we could find, seeking some understanding of what had just happened there. 
Yes, it was a shooting in the school; the truth came out in horrible chunks, transported to our eyes and ears like victims to the hospital, in an implacable parade of damage: three dead, including the shooter, and 13 wounded. 
It was the first time: the school staff had invented a lockdown protocol on the spot, we learned later. There were consequences: the shooter’s family, reeling from the loss of a beloved son, were tormented by their own inability to understand how this could have happened. I remember being terribly angry at the newspapers, with their relentless pursuit of fresh angles to a painful story. What did people think? How did they feel? How could this have happened?
For a long while, that anger left me determined to do a better job, a more sensitive and compassionate job, if I should ever find myself as a member of the press. I went to journalism school after university, still partly burning with that unexpressed criticism of the profession. It didn’t last. What I learned, instead, was that there were good storytellers, ready to deal with the real people in a story, and there were ordinary writers who could pound out the who, what and why without ever grasping whatever it was about a story that truly mattered. Paul Nowack taught me that, among others.  
Looking back, it was perhaps the single moment when I began to have an inkling that life is not permanent, that friendships were a precious and fragile gift, never to be taken for granted. I learned that it would be wise to think about time as it passes: what you will do with it, and what it will do with you. Or to you. It’s funny stuff, time. It shapes us, wounds us, heals us, deceives us… or maybe it just allows us to do all those things to ourselves.
These days, when those kinds of tragedy strike, the survivors are often provided some kind of trauma or grief counselling. They didn’t know about such things back then, I guess; I became a songwriter, eventually, though it took a while. I think it took me nearly twenty years to process the experience, to come to terms with that day, in the form of a song, “After the Shooting Stops.” 
Dealing with that day was much worse, I would come to understand, for all of those first-responders who turned up, as they always do, not knowing anything about what they faced, what they might be up against.
In truth, I always felt like a bit of a wuss, for feeling as I did – there were so many others who were closer to the violence of that day, to the ugly truth of it. They saw things. Some of them even got shot. But I still remember some of those moments – wandering around, hugging each other, sometimes crying with relief as we found each other –  as though it was yesterday. I wonder what has happened to some of those people, swept along in the current of their own lives and far away from mine. Time is funny stuff.
My mother taught in a primary school in the same town. She’s passed, years ago now, but I remember hearing once that Mom and her fellow teachers were told about the shooting in our school but had no details about who might have been hurt, who might have been killed. And she had to teach the rest of the day, not knowing. As I recall, my sister and I both had fierce hugs when we finally straggled through the door, later that afternoon. It was a long time ago, and perhaps I mis-remember.
   All of these memories, however, form a part of how I hear each new story, each fresh atrocity, each new refusal to actually deal with the truth of it. Yes, we keep hearing that guns don’t kill people, it’s people who kill people. And that’s true but given a choice between a killer with a gun, and a killer with a loaf of bread, I’d probably prefer to face the loaf of bread. Is it time we have to blame for this persistent stupidity? Time passes, and the problem persists. The stories continue. Horrific anniversaries of dreadful events pile up and drift like fallen leaves from the tree of wisdom, but they never seem to compost into anything. Not wisdom. Not change. Not even hope.
Sometimes though, I can remember to write a story. Or a song. To throw it out there, like a fallen red leaf on the black waters of time, and wait for time to carry it away, out of sight. You know, just killing time.

Bruce Madole approaches writing fiction with a wry, humorous, and occasionally noir-ish approach to story-telling. He loves strong characters with strong voices and definite flaws, and he has a long-standing love of the crime and mystery novels. Among other accolades, he’s the winner of the 2017 John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award. Bruce is also an award-winning songwriter and songwriting workshop leader, as well as the con-founder, producer and performing host of The Source of the Song songwriters’ concert series (ongoing since 2003). Visit his website here.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Cambridge, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written, as always Bruce. Thanks for writing this timely message.


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