Last weekend, I had the pleasure of traveling to my youngest son’s graduation. It was a time to celebrate the sacrifices and hard work he and the other graduates had to put in to complete their college degrees. We were joined by families who traveled from all over the country to support loved ones as they received the symbol of achievement in their chosen fields of study.
However, the event had a bit of a mournful quality to it. At the opening, there were words and a moment of silence for the victims in Newtown, Conn. Only two days beforehand had the senseless killings of young children occurred. We knew that the shooting had occurred, but admittedly our family was absorbed in honoring Michael. I chose to focus instead on the words and themes of commencement — courage, hard work and faith, mixed with serendipity.
As I write, it is three days later. Family has begun to scatter back to jobs and home. Now, I find time to catch up on the news and have begun to dial into the national mourning that is taking place. I have read news accounts and watched the president’s speech of Sunday evening.
No words can adequately convey the emotions I experienced today. It has been overwhelming. I am a parent and, what seems like only a few short years ago, I was walking with each of my then 6-year-olds to the school bus. I can’t imagine the sense of loss that those parents must feel. I admit I cried — more than once. I could relate to those parents. Like so many others, I want to come to some understanding of what happened and why. I want to know our society can keep this from happening again.
I can do my part to contribute to a society that takes to heart the president’s words, “… caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.” The president was speaking about not just our biological children, but about our community’s children, my children. It does take a great many hands to keep children safe and to enable our children to fulfill their potential.
As we wrestle with coming to terms over this tragedy, there will be a great deal of discussion. There will be debates about mental health. There will be discussions about how to delineate some “reasonableness test” limits to Second Amendment rights. There will be discussions about the impact of violent video games. There will be studies done about school safety. These will all help our society focus on solutions.
However, politicians will ultimately need to take action. Politicians will engage consultants, create commissions, form alliances and garner support from various groups. They will have access to opinion, and if they have open minds, will have access to facts. They will also encounter groups with different opinions and perhaps a slightly different take on the facts. Politicians will engage in debate about the best way to proceed. This is what politicians do. At certain times, like these, issues are so important that we want — no, we need — politicians to rise above partisan politics. We don’t need any grandstanding.
Politicians are elected to do that which is best for our society, be that nationally or locally. From time to time, issues do arise that require a higher level of decision making. On the local level, it might be an issue about redistricting schools or economic development. There will be times in which suggested solutions may be unpopular. There will undoubtedly be forces aligned against certain solutions. There are issues that are so important to our society, and yes, to our community, that political courage is what is needed. Our society, our community, cries out to them, “Do what may be hard.” For certain issues, it is too important for the future well-being of our community to settle for “my constituents don’t want it.”
Political leaders have access to all the information needed to make the right decisions. The consultants will weigh in. The commissions will issue reports. Important civic groups will render opinions. To abandon a needed course because it is unpopular is nothing less than political cowardice. Our nation, our society, our community need just the opposite. We need elected officials with political courage to do what is best for us all. That might just be the best Christmas present they can give to us.
David Hanlin is a Hagerstown resident. His email address is email@example.com.