Many years ago, before Columbine, before 9/11, I served on my local town council. Maybe I was a different person then. I don’t know. Politics was never a good fit for me. I am shy and somewhat indifferent to whether people like me, but the workings of local government have always been of interest, and I’m still surprised by how little people seem to know about how the functions that impact them so directly, garbage collection, fire suppression, parks maintenance, etc., actually work.
One Tuesday evening back then, as I was about to leave my office for the council meeting, my ten-year-old son called to say that a helicopter had landed in the schoolyard near our house. He wanted to know what was going on. My mother, of blessed memory, took care of my kids on Tuesday until my husband got home, so I could engage in civic life. I did not know what to tell my son. When I got to townhall I learned that there had been a shooting at the little post office right near the school. The helicopter a medevac copter. Four people dead, one gravely wounded. This all seems commonplace now. Not so, then.
Over the next few days, events in Montclair unfolded. The murderer apprehended. The news trucks came and went. The town held a memorial service. I felt the need to write a poem for the service, something I had not done in two decades. I wrote, I have kept on writing for almost thirty years. If nothing else, it has helped me process all the terrible things.
Montclair’s not a big town, but it’s not small either. I knew most of the victims. I frequented that post office. When I’d signed up to be an elected official, I hadn’t anticipated what impact it might have on my life. Perhaps that’s a good thing. I went to the wakes and the funerals. The incident became a part of the town’s identity and mine.
Many local residents became deeply engaged in the campaign against gun violence. I was outspoken about the need to regulate gun ownership and took some heat for it. For quite a few years Ceasefire NJ held a large, successful fundraiser to advance changes in gun laws. New Jersey did enact a few more stringent requirements, but not enough. People lose energy or grow hopeless when they see nothing change.
There are legislators of my own political party sitting on their hands right now. While nationally gun violence has escalated exponentially. Children are murdered, again and again. Nothing happens. Nothing. Even the scant discussions around solutions focus on reaction rather than prevention. Whether the police are adequately trained or not does not makes much less difference if a teenager is not able to purchase a firearm.
I’m a mother and a grandmother and a human being. I can’t stand it. I look at the pictures of those children in the paper, and I can’t stop crying. Writing poetry has stopped helping me. Writing this won’t change anything, but I am just so sad, so terribly sad.