Grendal in Pennsylvania

I found myself wishing today that they had surveillance cameras in Amish schools so that we could see pictures of what happened. It seemed to me it might be better to see it than to imagine the unimaginable. I heard about it on radio and found myself imagining – and wanting to stop my mind from even considering what the children in that school room experienced.
I was in New Zealand when 9/11 happened or I might be more inured to the unimaginable.

I think about children growing up knowing that schools are not safe places and my thoughts go in two directions. One is the idiocy of allowing guns to fall into so many unsafe hands. The other is the false idea that things were safer in the past.

On the gun culture, it’s all been said before. “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Nonsense! I lived in Japan for six years where they have strict controls on guns and people don’t get killed by guns. Yes, people still kill each other, but not in large numbers. They use knives and do it slowly, one at a time, with the result that they do it much less often. But as long as politicians are more concerned for the money they get from the NRA than for protecting human lives, nothing will change.

As to a safer past . . . Well, our children were just too young to be part of the generation that learned to hide under their desks in the event of an atomic bomb. But I grew up during World War II, and I remember how neighbors loaned my parents the issue of Life Magazine that had a special section of pictures of holocaust survivors in the liberated death camps. They clipped shut the relevant pages so the children wouldn’t see the pictures. So we looked at those pages first. I remember. How do you protect children from reality?

I’m speaking tomorrow about Beowulf and Beyond Beowulf at Salisbury School and I think I will begin by suggesting to the teen-age boys I’ll be talking to that they consider the problem of evil. Why do we read stories like Beowulf? Isn’t it one way we have of dealing with the problem of evil? Beowulf reminds us that evil is out there stalking the moors and that sometimes when we want to relax with friends and a cup of mead that evil breaks into the safest house and consumes anyone within reach.

One of the most striking devices the Beowulf poet uses is the three-times repeated word “Come” (“Coom”) as he narrates the approach of Grendal to the feasting warriors. It echoes like the word “doom” as their doom comes ever nearer.

We need to be reminded that evil is out there – and in us as well. It breaks loose when we least expect it. We can’t prevent it but we shouldn’t be surprised. Evil is real. The Bible is clear about that. There was a serpent in the garden. There was a Judas among the apostles. The Founding Fathers balanced the powers of our government so that no one would have unconstrained power. They knew the evil that unconstrained power in human hands can do. Why do we need an Iraq War or another fallen member of Congress or another school shooting to remind us?

Human beings will never eliminate evil. We will never be wise enough or good enough for that. But let us at least do what we can: vote to limit the power we place in human hands and never forget that Grendal is out there and will come inside whenever we fail to be vigilant.

1 Comment

AnonymousOctober 3rd, 2006 at 10:53 am

I left you a comment earlier, but when you somehow eliminated the duplicate posting it got lost! Ah, well. Now I’ve posted something on my blog (lessons from the tortoise) in solidarity.

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