Where Have All the Hippies Gone?

I’m a child of the sixties. Born the summer of 1961, I was barely a toddler when a bullet tore through the fabric of this nation and Camelot died. My family was glued to the television, devastated and hungry for news. I would have been there as well, playing with my toys as the tragedy played on. I imagine that I remember everyone crying for the nice man that was shot, and their shock when his alleged assassin was shot on live television. Maybe, somewhere in the depths of my consciousness, I do.

One thing I do remember is my friend who lived next door to my Grandma and Grandpa. Roger was an older boy, and he was nice. We played games on his porch. I recall eating ice cream as the cicadas relentlessly chirred, and the familiar sound of the gas pump dinging from the station around the corner. One day Roger was gone because he got shot in the back and died. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I missed him. He was just a teenager.

When I was four, we moved to Colorado and at five, I started school. Each night, the “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” came on and he would say how many people died in a place called Vietnam. Sometimes there were movies from “the Front Line,” and he talked about the push for Civil Rights, anti-war protests, and Hippies.

Later, I learned more about Hippies, who were also called peaceniks, leftists, radicals, or worse. Parents warned us to stay away from “them” but never really said why. Protests were happening more frequently. “Make love, not war!” was the catch cry. My friends and classmates at school were often sad, and we talked in hushed tones about the brothers dying in the war, without truly understanding what that meant.

As I grew, the Hippies, the protests and the war were constants. And the assassinations. I was not yet seven when Dr. King died. Or when Bobby followed just two months later. I listened to the song “Abraham, Martin and John” on my transistor radio, sensing the sadness in the music and lyrics. “One Tin Soldier” was another favorite. Only in later years would I understand the depth of “Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend, do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end.”

It seemed Hippies were everywhere in their groovy clothes, flashing the peace sign. They protested the war, made music that called for the end of war and violence. Kent State was their answer. “Four dead in Ohio…” echoed through the airwaves. The young girl, about my mother’s age, crying out next to a body lying on the pavement, “Why??!!”

The boys finally came home from war, not always welcomed warmly. The Jesus People movement hit the mainstream. “One way,” the self-proclaimed Jesus Freaks cried, holding up one finger, instead of peace signs.

And the violence continued. George Wallace; shot. Gerald Ford, two assassination attempts. Larry Flynt, shot by a White supremacist. John Lennon. Shot dead in front of his home by a crazed fan. Ronald Reagan and three others, shot by another crazed fan, this time trying to impress a young actress. Then there were the mass shootings. It never ended. We have a never ending supply of unbalanced people who have ready access to firearms to wreak their havoc.

One of the most constant things in my life has been the threat of a gun, and it’s taken me to this moment to truly realize it. No wonder I always felt my life would be changed by one. Why wouldn’t it be?

Today, I look at the state of us, the state of the US, and I wonder, “How did we let this happen?” I’ll tell you how. BY EVERYDAY PEOPLE NOT SPEAKING UP. By allowing weapons manufacturers to churn out cheap guns on a horrific scale, by allowing corporations, lobbyists and special interest groups like the NRA and the religious right to dictate the direction of our country and our lives, instead of common sense, and rules for the common good.

“Guns don’t kill people”, the Second Amendment/NRA clan shout, “People kill people!” Well, I say STOP giving people what may as well be drive through window service and access to the damn tools they use to kill each other so easily, and they’ll stop killing each other so easily, and with such deadly, blood-soaked force. Or perhaps that’s the goal. Fear is a great tool to sell the guns and ammo that feed a multi-billion dollar industry.

Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, preaches a false doctrine of fear and hatred from his bloody pedestal of gun worship. He stokes the fire, calling those of us who have been impacted by this kind of violence, this kind of loss, “clowns” because we seek common sense changes to our gun laws, so that others will not have to suffer like we do. How dare he? HOW DARE HE?

To quote Andrew Goddard, father of Virginia Tech survivor Colin Goddard: “Guns are the only consumer product subject to no design safety regulation, and no training, testing, registration or insurance are required before use. The Second Amendment is important, but it was not intended to create an excuse to oppose all reasonable public-safety measures. Guns do not cause criminality; they just make criminality more deadly.”

Our founding fathers lived in a largely agrarian society, where many hunted for their food, with single shot muskets and rifles that were often inaccurate and required a great deal of time to reload. And yes, this country was also founded (and sustained) through sheer willpower and guns. But today, we’re wielding weapons capable of mowing down an entire crowd of people before anyone can realize what’s happening and the NRA and Second Amendment defenders call it the same thing. “It’s our Constitutional right,” they shout. “You’ll pry our guns from our cold dead hands!” By their logic, the millions of cold dead hands who will never cradle a loved one again because of our rampant gun toting, violent society don’t enter into the equation.

Well, what about those of us who don’t want to always be wondering who is packing a gun, about who just might pull that gun and wreak blood-soaked havoc in our schools, in our offices, in our bars and clubs, in our Safeway parking lots? What about our right to not live in fear? To live peacefully, to gather peacefully? What about our rights???

Banning all guns isn’t practical, nor is it necessary as shown by other societies around the world who manage to have guns, and a relatively small level of gun violence compared to the U.S. There has to be some middle ground, some common sense.

In my state, virtually anyone can go to a Gun Show and buy a gun, hell, buy dozens of guns and extended magazines, all without any sort of background check or questions asked. And stay inside the law, right up to the second the gun is pulled and used to shoot a Congresswoman of the United States in the head, and callously mow down peaceful citizens waiting to speak to her. To shoot and KILL a nine-year-old girl and five others. To wound and emotionally scar the survivors and the families and friends left behind. Just one incident in our everyday blood festival.

In the aftermath of Tucson, Arizona and many other states want to make it even easier for anyone, anywhere, any time to buy a gun or an extended magazine, no questions asked. These callous and shameful “public servants” are pushing for a world where everyone is armed with the weapon and extended firepower of their choice, and the majority of them have an (R) next to their names. It’s sheer madness. And it’s time for it to stop.

How do we continue to get it so wrong? And I have to ask…where have all the Hippies gone? Are they so entrenched in their comfortable, corporate lives and retirements that they’ve forgotten what they stood for in their youth? Do they not believe in peace and love and non-violence anymore? Did they raise their children to believe in and worship guns?

As Gary Trudeau pointed out in Doonesbury, a voice that sprang from the heart of the Hippie Generation, the United States started two bloody wars and spent TRILLIONS of dollars because 3000 people were killed in the attack of 9/11. (Do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end.) Since 9/11, more than 270,000 Americans were killed by gunfire on our own shores. If that’s not a war, I don’t know what is. And if Gary Trudeau’s piece is not the roots of a generation calling out and saying “Wake up! Snap out of it!” I don’t know what is.

Where are your protests? Where is your outrage? Haven’t we all seen more than enough violence in our lifetimes? Where is your dream of a better, more peaceful America? Don’t let it die on the blood-soaked pavement of Safeway parking lot.

Call your elected officials in your state, and in Washington. Be heard.

Peace.

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When is enough, enough?

I always knew a gun would alter my life. I have no idea how I knew, but I did. One of the most vivid dreams I ever had was when I was just 18 or 19 years old. I saw myself, clearly older, sitting in a chair, rocking a child, and I was staring into the barrel of a gun. Who was holding it? I had no clue. But the dream disturbed me enough that I wrote it down. And I remembered it years later, when a single gunshot shattered my life.

In an instant, my husband was gone. While I never had a burning desire to have children, I liked knowing I could do so one day. But my ovaries became diseased while I was still very young; and so my fertility and eventually the ovaries themselves, were also gone. The child did not exist, and never would.

When the subject of children comes up, I exclaim, “Oh, my gosh! I forgot to have them!” Over the past 19 years, I’ve gotten pretty good at the acceptable responses. I know most people don’t mean to hurt by their words. I shrug it off most days, and I consider all children my own. I don’t have to be a parent to know they are precious.

IT, the bullet, the suicide, the aftermath, is something I rarely speak about anymore, and the few people who do know tend to forget it is part of my fabric. I try to never let it show. Some days it’s hard, like when people say things in passing like “I’m going to shoot myself in the head.” Or do that awful pantomime where they make the gun with one hand, and mimic the bloodshed with the other. I just pretend to not really hear the words, or worse, visibly wince at the gesture. But each time I turn on the news, IT is all brought back fresh. Another life wasted. More lives shattered. More dreams destroyed.

And the pain is always there. With me, all day. All night. Every single day. It’s not all internal. It shows on my outside, through the extra weight I carry, and in health issues stemming from prolonged periods of intense, unimaginable stress. On certain days, the pain is just lurking beneath the surface. And I’m never sure when those days will be.

When I am under stress, I dream of being chased; fleeing for my life. I am being hunted methodically and then I am shot point blank, or I am trying to protect loved ones (usually my nieces and nephews) from some unknown assailant’s bullets, shielding them with my own body as best as I can, trying to save them. Those dreams stick with me for a while before I can shake it off again, and go back to “normal”. I never talk about those.

Today, I understand that I suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), although I would be considered as very high functioning. It’s something I only recently recognized. I saw aspects of myself in the story of friend, who was brave enough to write a book in hopes of helping others. (She did. And is.) My self-diagnosis was confirmed by a doctor, years after the onset. What I do with that, I don’t know. But at least I can stop silently berating myself for not being over something that it may not be possible to “get over” because it has literally become part of my biological chemistry.

Yep, this girl has baggage that was thrust upon her by someone else’s actions, someone else’s undiagnosed, untended mental illness; one that ended for him that cold night in September, 1992 when he put a single bullet through his head at our home, leaving behind a huge pool of blood, bone and brain matter spattered everywhere, and an indelible stain on my life. I could have just as easily been a casualty that night. Actually, I was. I just wasn’t part of the body count. Nor were all the others who were affected by his death. The ripple, the aftershock, spreads further than you might imagine.

In more recent years, the sudden descent into the depths of mental illness happened twice within my own family, and I learned firsthand about the perils, pitfalls and pathos of the human mind, our health care system, and of just how far you have to push to get help for those who need it the most. Their right to be crazy trumps your right to try to get them proper treatment, to save them.

And now it’s 2011. I’m still waiting for my pain to stop. I’ve had enough. I don’t mean that in the sense that I would put my family and friends through the type of suffering I have gone through. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, as the saying goes.

What I do I mean is that I am sick and tired of people going around shooting themselves and shooting one another, simply because they can access a gun. Even worse, they can get hold of big, juicy ammo clips that hold an awful lot of death and destruction, and then go forth and wreak as much death and destruction as they possibly can before they “punch their own ticket”, as my father says, or someone else puts a bullet into them.

That’s a tremendous amount of power and responsibility to hand out to whomever decides they want it and shouts that they have a right to wield it. No matter which side they’re on. Our forefathers would shudder at what we’ve become in their name.

I long to put my baggage down, but I’ve finally realized that the only way I can possibly do so is by picking up the proverbial pen and speaking out. I’ve made my living, and continue to do so, by writing for an ad agency. Over the 25+ years of my career, I’ve learned that every sales problem can be boiled down to a single point. “What’s the pain?” we ask. In this case, the pain is literal, the pain is widespread, and it’s time we talked about it. It’s time we stopped letting a relatively small group of powerful lobbyists for the NRA tell us we don’t matter, they will not negotiate EVER on gun control so don’t even TRY to take away our precious assault rifles or big juicy ammo clips again. I say BULLSHIT. The time for us to be heard and FIGHT is NOW.

So here I sit. Deciding to stop pretending it’s all OK, and asking myself what is the point of me, of anyone, having to suffer like this if we don’t learn from it; grow from it; effect CHANGE so that others don’t have to go through it. Indeed. And what about our collective pain? The things we’ve been touched by and grieved as a nation in my lifetime alone?

Dallas. The McDonald’s Massacre. Columbine. Memphis. Luby’s Cafeteria. Omaha. Virginia Tech. The Amish School. These sit at the top of my consciousness, but sadly, no, horrifically, there is no end to the madness. Especially not for those directly involved. The people left behind after the news cycle. The ones left behind as the door closes quietly as the police take their leave. The ones who slump to the floor, trying to figure out whom to call first to break the terrible, awful, blood soaked news even as their hands shake uncontrollably, too unsteady to dial the phone. The ones trying desperately to learn how to simply keep going in the aftermath.

It’s so easy and so simple for people to push away the reality when it’s someone else’s child. Someone else’s father. Brother. Sister. Wife. Husband. Mother. Daughter. Son. Friend. It’s time to stop pushing things away, and start pushing for change.

And so I ask you, when is enough, enough?

Just two weeks ago, Tucson. In the aftermath, our President challenged us all to be better people. To make this country a place that lives up to the expectations of a nine-year-old child who was born on the day this nation was stricken by an incomprehensible tragedy. A child who died on the day this nation was stricken by an incomprehensible tragedy. A child who we CANNOT allow to have died in vain.

Many died that day; others lived, and their stories were heart wrenching; they were valiant and most of all, they hit home. The young intern, who cradled Gabby Giffords to his chest and tried to staunch the flow of blood from her head.

The elderly man who shielded his wife’s body with his own. He gave his life so that she might live.

The mother who threw herself in front of her teen daughter, and was shot three times. My nightmare, playing out in full, bloody technicolor. In real life, they both lived.

The kindly family friend who brought a bright, inquisitive nine-year-old girl to see their Congresswoman. Whose anguish at not being able to save this beautiful child entrusted to her care haunts her, even as she struggles to recover from three bullet wounds.

The two men who pinned the gunman to the ground, even as he struggled to reload.

The middle-aged mom who wrested a big fat, juicy clip full of death from the gunman as he struggled to reload.

The gunman, who was once a nine-year-old boy, the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of his parents. Now he’s forever the child who slipped away into madness, and took others with him.

These people are not someone else. They’re our family. Our neighbors. Our friends. THEY ARE US.

So when will enough be enough?

I’m sick and tired of hearing hateful words pouring out of people, and in turn, feeling hateful by being exposed to it. I’m sick and tired of ignorance and fear. I’m sick and tired of seeing homeless people who are clearly mentally ill, and who are homeless primarily because there is no health care available for them.

I’m sick and tired of the NRA shouting about the constitution and their Second Amendment rights and of zealots touting Second Amendment remedies. I’m sick and tired of politics and divisiveness and “us and them” mentality. We are ALL human. WE. ARE. ALL. HUMAN.

Since I was nine, more than one million sons, daughters, moms, dads, wives and husbands, neighbors and friends have been killed though gun violence and suicide by gun. ONE MILLION. And I look at my soon to be nine-year-old nephew, and I pray that he doesn’t have to live in a world where this is acceptable, where this is the norm. I pray the same for the child down the block. And down the next one, and the next, to Tucson, and beyond. I don’t have to be a parent to know they are precious.

We don’t have to live in a world where this is the norm. Why, I ask, is this acceptable? It’s NOT. We have to make a choice. Let’s make the right one. We can start by reinstating the Federal Assault Weapon Ban, which was allowed to expire in 2004. And then by having a civil discussion about what we want our society, and our lives and our children’s world to be like going forward.

We are Columbine. We are Tucson. We are human.

Don’t push away the reality because it’s someone else’s child. Someone else’s father. Brother. Sister. Wife. Husband. Mother. Daughter. Son. Friend.

It could just as easily be you, or someone you love. And if it were, would it be enough then?

When is enough, enough?

Please, please, let it be NOW.

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