Maine Attraction

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My husband and I recently spent the weekend with good friends who live all summer on an island in the middle of a lake in Maine. Being on this island in the waning days of summer felt like existing in our own little world.

Getting to the island itself took us through dark, winding roads dense with forest. I could easily see how Stephen King conjured the sinister fate of Paul Sheldon, the character in his novel Misery who crashes his car in the forest and is rescued by a deranged fan. Finally we reached the car ferry, and after having our car secured behind a wooden block and a couple of bungee cords, the flat boat cruised out onto the moonlit lake and headed to the island.

There was a fire lit in the fireplace when we arrived at our friend’s house along the lake. Its cozy glow and the warmth of reconnecting with our friends soon banished the wooded darkness. In the morning, I arose to a spectacular view out the floor-to-ceiling windows in the main room. We were just steps from the lake, whose placid surface rolled gently across to the mainland. The clouds obscured mountains in the distance. Although there were houses nearby, I could almost imagine being alone in the world out here. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

The weekend was filled with good food and good company. We took hikes around the island with our friends and their two dogs, meeting neighbors and other canine company along the way. I took photos of the ferry and general store for a friend who remembered summering on the island when she was a child. There was a now-defunct boys’ camp with some structures still standing, and I could just picture young kids out in the woods getting dirty and learning survival skills like lighting fires. The husband of the couple we were visiting gave us a lesson in eating Maine’s specialty, lobster. The taste was truly worlds apart from anything I had ever had in a fancy restaurant.

The wife told me that she was never bored on the island, despite its remoteness. She had the numerous hiking trails and the vast lake itself for paddle-boarding and kayaking. She had her books, her husband, and her dogs for companionship. And with many of the island residents, she had taken up pickleball, a newfangled racquet sport that provides physical and social activity.

Prior to our visit, I would have thought a summer spent out on an island would be terribly isolating. Needing to drive my car onto a ferry just to go get groceries or other necessities seemed a burden. But after two days on the island, I began to see the attraction of being away from the hustle and bustle of living in a city. My friend, in fact, was dreading a return to their home in Chicago at the end of the season, which is rapidly approaching.

It’s nice to be back in familiar surroundings after a weekend away. But I have fond feelings about our visit to Maine, especially the time spent with good friends on a beautiful and rugged island with only each other’s company and the majesty of nature.

Age Segregation

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As my husband and I have searched for a place to down-size to, I’ve noticed there are a lot of communities for the 55 and older set. These neighborhoods have rules setting a minimum age for residents, assuring that one’s next door neighbor will not be a music-blasting teenager, for instance. I’m not particularly thrilled with such communities.

One of the things I dislike most about Florida is that there are huge communities with few to zero children. I remember being on vacation and walking somewhere from our condo when an elderly gentleman on a bike took me to task for not moving over on the sidewalk after he had rung his little bell. At the time I remember hoping I would never get that cranky as I got older. But it’s easy to develop that mentality when everyone around you is also old.

Recently I read a story in The Washington Post about the increase in intentional communities that seek to connect rather than segregate people of different ages. (“How housing that mixes young and old can improve the lives of both,” WaPo, Sept. 14, 2021) Studies have shown benefits to the elderly when they are engaged in activities with younger people. They tend to be more physically active and mentally engaged. Even when I was a younger mom, I remember the psychological boost I got from spending a morning helping out at our local preschool. On the reverse side, older people have perspective and often the time to help younger adults and children not only with tasks but emotionally as well. They become surrogate grandparents who enrich the lives of their younger counterparts.

In the past, generations lived together not only in communities, but in the same residences. It was common, even expected, for grandparents to live with their children and grandchildren. But in America, the nuclear family living on its own in a house with a white picket fence became the ideal. I must admit I would have found it difficult to have either my parents or my husband’s living with us as our children grew up. Yet something has been lost in the distance, both physical and emotional, my kids have had from their grandparents.

The pandemic has brought to light the loneliness and isolation so many people feel nowadays. Our fiercely independent mindset makes it hard for people to reach out to each other when we need it most. It would be ideal for each of us to have a real community, a group of related and unrelated residents who could keep an eye on each other, help other, learn from each other.

So no 55-and-older complexes for me. I plan to stay vital and youthful as long as I am able – despite the head of gray hair I now sport. And that music-blasting teen next door? Well, that just may be me.

All Will Be Well

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On our darkest days, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to see a glimmer of hope through the clouds of fear, sorrow, and anxiety. Twenty years ago today, Americans awoke to a horrific tragedy that shook our lives and forever transformed our sense of safety and security. When the Twin Towers fell, we experienced the unimaginable: the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history. We are still feeling the aftershocks in many ways.

The recent exit from Afghanistan after 20 years of occupation and loss of lives, both American and Afghani, has been a demoralizing coda to the U.S. incursion into the country following the 9/11 attacks. No matter which side of the political divide you are on, the resurgence of the Taliban and most especially the loss of American troops facilitating the withdrawal have given Americans reason for grief and anguish.

Yet I’d prefer to hold onto something that doesn’t seem obvious to take away from this tragedy: hope. Twenty years ago terrorists filled with hate took it upon themselves to destroy lives and strike fear into the hearts of millions. Yet they could not exterminate the courage and selflessness of many who rushed to the scene to help: the first responders at Ground Zero in New York City and at the Pentagon, the passengers who grounded one of the planes before it could be used as a weapon against more Americans.

Many travelers were stranded outside the U.S. on September 11, 2001, after American air space was cleared to prevent further destruction. A 2016 musical titled Come From Away tells the heartwarming story of a small town in Newfoundland, Canada, that took in and embraced some of these stranded passengers. They provided shelter, food, and their own clothing to people whose possessions had to be secured and checked out for possible weapons. “This is just who we are,” said one resident of Gander, the small Canadian town, when asked why the townspeople had provided such an outpouring of support for the grounded passengers. (Amy Polacko, “I was stranded in Newfoundland on Sept. 11. Here’s my ‘Come From Away’ story,” The Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2021) Just as important as physical necessities, the people of Gander provided moral support to literally thousands of Americans whose diverted flights had landed them at their doorstep.

Hope is not foolish positivity in the face of danger and sorrow. Rather, it is a recognition that most people are inherently good, as I commented recently on a Facebook post about some strangers helping their daughter when she fainted near campus. I went on to point out that it is just that conflict and harm make for more compelling news. When you have a steady diet of stories about murders, robberies, and terrorist plots, it can be easy to forget that most people mean well, not harm.

Just recently I finished the latest mystery by Louise Penny, The Madness of Crowds. The theme of the novel is the tendency of people to latch onto popular but dangerous delusions in their quest for safety and certainty in an unpredictable world. The novel is set post-pandemic (If only!) and involves a statistician who uses the devastating impact of the pandemic to argue for a heartless culling of the world’s population. Like most of Penny’s novels, however, the book shows that despite the evil that can take hold in people’s hearts, sometimes leading to murder, there is a fundamental goodness in human nature as well, and it can and does triumph over evil.

Throughout Penny’s novel the famous quote by St. Julian of Norwich is mentioned: “All shall be well.” The quote is misused by the statistician to promote her heinous theories. But ultimately, through the actions of Penny’s beloved characters in the fictional village of Three Pines, we see that courage and kindness can triumph.

Today we mourn the loss of lives on 9/11. We mourn the 13 service men and women who lost their lives in the evacuation from Afghanistan, as well as the thousands of lives lost during 20 years of occupation. We feel devastated by a pandemic that continues to claim lives after the loss of more than 600,000 Americans.

Yet I continue to hold onto hope for our country and for the human race, believing that ultimately “all shall be well.”

Don’t Trip Down Memory Lane

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Cleaning out closets has a way of stirring up dust – and memories. Among the possessions I have been going through lately has been the repository of old family photos extending back to my own parents’ childhoods and beyond. For years these photos had been haphazardly dumped into boxes and moved from place to place as members of my large family took turns with the responsibility of storing them.

Knowing that some day these photos would be completely lost to the ravages of time and imperfect storage, I purchased numerous acid-free boxes and set about moving the photos into safer containers. In doing so, I found some gems that I had not seen for many years, such as pictures of my maternal grandmother and grandfather when they were young. Photos of my dad and his brothers from their youth, their army portraits, wives and children, even ones of myself when I was very little and cranky-looking (as opposed to my current old and cranky look!). I found a poster of my cousin who had passed away some years ago. The poster had been made for his wake and funeral, and I marveled at the images: his prom, for instance, or the numerous shots of him and his army buddies enjoying a beer. I thought to myself that there must be some stories there that I had never thought to learn.

When we’re young, we imagine our future as almost limitless, endless. We doubt we can learn much of anything from the past, especially from our own ancestors. I remember the endless parade of aunts at family gatherings when I was a kid. Sure, they had some unique qualities, but it never occurred to me to sit at their feet and listen to their stories. My grandparents were similarly fossilized in my mind. Now I wish I had some knowledge of what their lives had been like. Youth is truly wasted on the young.

My siblings and I discussed some of my finds at dinner last weekend out on my screened-in porch. It had been a while since we had gotten together, what with COVID and busy lives intervening. But over pizza, we shared memories and stories. My brother explained how he had spent quite a bit of time with that cousin from the posters. Our cousin was much older, more like an uncle to us. In his later years, he had a pizza joint he would hang out at with his friends, his adopted family, if you will. My brother would join them and get to know my cousin. In doing so, he confirmed that cousin Jack was quirky and curmudgeonly, things I’d certainly guessed from his life-long bachelorhood – but also that he was unfailingly kind and generous, buying books for his neighbors’ children, giving away cash to people who needed it, even feeding the neighborhood squirrels!

We moved on to our own lives and memories. My brothers regaled us with stories about a local cemetery where they had both worked for a number of years. Their tales could provide fodder for numerous seasons of a dark comedy on HBO or Showtime. One brother had even had his life threatened while working there. My sisters recalled the aftermath of our mother’s death and how insecure they were to leave my dad’s side. I learned that my father had had tuberculosis for many more years than I had initially believed growing up. As we sat there on a waning summer night, I realized that we too are repositories of many memories that our children may some day want to hear. I hope that, unlike me, they discover the urge to learn their history earlier in life – before many of the people they could ask are gone.

It took some doing getting the photos off of that poster of my cousin. The pictures had been glued on, so my husband helped me peel off a thin strip of the paper without damaging the images. Then I literally took scissors and cut around the photos so that these snapshots of an earlier time could be preserved for the future. Wherever my cousin Jack is, I hope he is having a beer with his brother and his brothers-in-arms.

Taking a trip down memory lane can be a bit like falling into a rabbit hole. Many twists and turns can lead you to some dark paths. But I’m grateful for the memories and stories I have – and for family, who can keep those stories alive for the generations to come.

Differently Abled

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People with disabilities face many obstacles in their day-to-day lives. Despite the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990, the disabled still encounter problems with transportation, housing, and employment as they navigate a world made for those of us without such physical limitations as as paralysis, blindness, deafness and the like, or intellectual disabilities such as autism or developmental delays.

Perhaps worst of all is public perception of people with disabilities. We often underestimate them and hold emotions of pity rather than respect for them. Particularly in the area of mental health, individuals are often misunderstood because they exhibit behavior different than the norm. We are quick to label them rather than to try to get to know them as the unique people they are.

I’m currently reading a novel in which the main character struggles with others’ perception of him as autistic. It’s true that he has problems with social situations and with “reading” people’s emotions. He dislikes being touched and has prodigious recall. All of these characteristics are part of the autistic spectrum, but the character does not consider himself disabled. He is also concerned that his son’s difficulties at school have led to the administration’s insistence upon the boy’s being evaluated as possibly autistic. His parents worry about what such a diagnosis might mean in terms of treatment and others’ perceptions of their son.

It almost seems a pastime for people to diagnose others based on their behavior these days. You hear people casually comment that an acquaintance’s OCD or ADHD are really coming out today. Or they will meet a quirky individual and say, “He’s definitely on the spectrum,” meaning they think he must be autistic. Not only do such comments make light of serious mental disorders, but they reveal an unwillingness to look at a person as a person, not just an example of a disability.

Another character in the novel I’m reading has the condition of albinism. This condition is associated with eyesight problems and potential blindness. There is conflict between the albino child and her parents, who refuse to seek medical treatment to prevent further loss of sight. They do not consider blindness a disability. Indeed, there are many people in the sight and hearing impaired communities that consider these conditions simply a part of who they are, not a problem to be solved.

As I write, Tokyo is hosting the Paralympic Games, where individuals in wheelchairs, amputees and others with varying disabilities compete in racing, swimming, track and field, and many other Olympic sports. One of my first blog posts was about the Olympic superstar Tatyana McFadden, who was born with spina bifida and has won more than 17 medals in Paralympic contests. She has been named Best Female Athlete with a Disability at the ESPYs and has written a book about her life. I’m sure amazing athletes like McFadden would not want anyone looking at them as disabled, but rather as having certain physical or mental limitations that alter the way in which they can compete.

I like the term “differently abled.” Blind people can still read and write, get around with assistance and hold meaningful jobs. A paraplegic still has an intellect and personality they can use in their day-to-day lives. People on the autism spectrum often have skill sets that make them uniquely qualified for certain types of jobs. Obviously, people with disabilities need accommodations in order to live and work successfully. But this doesn’t mean they are somehow lesser. If we see people as differently abled, we can truly value and treasure the uniqueness of each and every person we meet.

Down-Sizing

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The giant stuffed Mickey Mouse sat forlornly on the curb outside our house. We’d hung a sign around his neck offering, “Free to a good home.” We had won the mammoth stuffed toy at a charity auction more than 20 years ago. I can still remember the look on the valet’s face as my husband and I worked at stuffing Mickey into the back seat of our sedan before bringing it home to our delighted 2-year-old. But we are downsizing, so it’s time to offload some of our unneeded possessions.

It is a bittersweet process going through your things to determine what you will keep and what you can bear to part with. Sure, there are a lot of household objects without any sentimentality attached to them. I had no trouble getting rid of old coffee mugs or my duplicate cookie press. But going through memorabilia is a lot harder. All the pictures and cards my kids made for me, their little handprint clay creations, awards and ribbons from my previous life: Sifting through these made me smile and even get a little teary-eyed.

The other day I found a box of college papers I’d saved as well as my high school yearbooks. I was actually impressed at my intellectual abilities from back in the day. For instance, I’d written a Freudian interpretation of the novel Jaws that was fairly impressive, if a little far-fetched at times. The shark as a stand-in for the libido? But the yearbook signings were my favorites. Kids wrote the most inane things. And good friends made all kinds of references to funny experiences that I’ve since forgotten. I looked up my photo in each yearbook and remembered how awkward and out of place I always felt. Yet most of the students who wrote in my book said genuinely nice things to me. In hindsight, I probably was not the total dork I thought I was.

Having our kids go through their own things has also been a little stressful. The boys were fairly easy. It took only a couple of hours for each of them to make piles marked, “Keep” and “Give away.” My daughter was another story. She not only has way more clothing than my other kids, but she has also amassed a collection of home decor that could stock a small resale shop. It literally took days for us to go through her things, and we are not quite finished. I knew we were in trouble when she insisted on keeping all the little scraps of paper with meaningful sayings on them that she had taped to her closet door.

Despite the hard work and sadness at parting with some of our things, I have a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction as my house becomes more streamlined and less cluttered. It’s a good thing to relinquish some of our material possessions. It helps put them in their proper perspective. As long as my children and my husband are happy and in good health, I consider myself the richest of women.

It took about half a day for someone to come by and pick up Mickey. I didn’t see the person stop and load him into their car or truck. But I hope wherever he lands, Mickey brings pleasure to someone else’s young children. It’s nice to think of our possessions getting a new life with a new family.

Down-sizing is not such a bad process. Change is good. And Marie Kondo would be proud!

School Daze

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I was out and about early this morning and got to see local students on their way to school for the first day of the year. Whether I saw middle schoolers waiting at their bus stops, faces trained on their smartphones, or gaggles of elementary school children walking with new backpacks slung over their little bodies, I had to smile at this annual ritual, one of which I am no longer a part.

I can remember my own children’s first days of school so clearly: the search for the right school supplies and cool lunch box, the agonizing over what outfit to wear, and both the eagerness and anxiety that accompanied all of us as we faced new teachers, new classmates, and, for me, the reality that with each passing year, my kids were getting older.

Every year when my kids were younger, my husband and I would accompany them to school on the very first day. My husband would always tease them, telling them he was going to give them a big fat kiss right in front of all their friends. When they were little, my kids would hold my hand along the way, and I would carry their giant box of school supplies for them to organize in their cubby or desk once they got there. The PTO would organize light refreshments outside on the patio, and after the school bell rang we parents would linger, sipping coffee and catching up after summers away on vacation.

Nowadays, preparing for the first day of school is paradoxically more complex and easier for me. It entails plane tickets and suitcases rather than backpacks and bagged lunches. And once we see our youngest daughter off at the airport tomorrow for her sophomore year of college, she will be on her own to navigate the move into her dorm room and the start of a new school year. There are definite perks to our children becoming adults!

I loved seeing groups of parents and children walking to school on this sunny summer day. In some groups, the parents outnumbered the kids. It was a treat for me to see the back-to-school ritual and to reminisce about those years that seem to have gone by in a blur. No doubt many of the parents I saw went home or off to work breathing a sigh of relief that their kids were once again going to be spending their days learning and growing – and not home complaining and making messes.

To say that our kids’ childhoods go by in the blink of an eye is a cliche for a reason. So moms and dads, I encourage you to savor all the sweet and crazy moments of school daze. Before you know it, you will be seeing them off to college or planning their wedding. Sure, those moments will be special too. But there’s nothing like your little one clutching your hand and giving you a goodbye hug on the first day of school. Enjoy it!

All the (Bad) News That’s Fit to Print

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Every Sunday I look forward to getting the New York Times delivered to my driveway. It’s the one newspaper I still receive in print, and I enjoy turning the large pages and devouring the stories along with my morning coffee and pastry. Last Sunday, though, as I began leafing through the paper, I began to feel depressed. The stories were all disheartening: the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, raging wildfires once again in California, Republican Jan. 6 insurrection deniers, a devastating earthquake in impoverished Haiti, COVID deaths and fears, severe droughts that seem to presage an apocalyptic future.

It’s not the Times‘s fault, of course. News is news, and by definition, it is almost always about conflict or something bad happening to someone. “Mother of Four Arrives Safely Home from the Supermarket,” after all, is not a likely news headline. Still, lately I feel as if I am witnessing harbingers of the end of the world.

Take COVID, for instance. Despite efforts to get the world vaccinated, misinformation and scarcity in some places is giving rise to variants of the virus that are much more transmissible. Younger people are being hospitalized in greater numbers, and Newsweek just posted a story about an increase in COVID deaths among the fully vaccinated. After more than a year of COVID-related shutdowns, shortages and labor woes, we are seeing nightmare scenarios at airports as people try to deal with delays and the lack of personnel who can help stranded passengers. Parents are going to war with teachers over mask mandates. It doesn’t seem a stretch to picture a world permanently in distress over COVID-19 and other related viruses.

The Times also featured a pictorial history of the January 6 attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential win. It’s hard to swallow my breakfast along with photos of Proud Boys beating cops and white supremacists combing the halls of Congress looking for prey. Worse still was the copy, which described how the Republican leadership has consistently diminished and denied the realities of this threat to democracy. Trump has doubled down on his rhetoric praising these insurrectionists, and the GOP is still too in his thrall (or concerned about his rabid supporters) to call him on his divisive words. Once again, my pessimistic mind goes to an all-out takeover of our democracy by decidedly anti-democratic forces.

Then there is the international scene. Around the world, countries are grappling with COVID-19 while also succumbing to natural disasters, wars, and climate disruptions. Especially distressing is seeing the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban take over Afghanistan again, presaging a return to draconian laws and the subjugation of its women. While I don’t necessarily disagree with Biden’s decision (and Trump’s before him) to withdraw from a fruitless, decades-long occupation of a foreign land, I do feel for the people, who have known nothing but war and terror for generations. I also worry that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will become a breeding ground for the next generation of worldwide terrorists.

As if all that is not depressing enough, our world is alternately on fire or submerged in floods, depending upon how climate change has affected a particular region. Rising sea levels threaten many coastal areas, and pictures of people being rescued from their homes by boat give me heart palpitations. On the other hand, areas such as the American West are suffering from extreme heat and drought, and I picture a future of wars over scarce commodities such as water. Meanwhile, there is still massive political resistance to doing anything to reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. I may be joining Elon Musk in his rocket ship to search for a more friendly, inhabitable planet.

Thankfully, the New York Times still publishes its weekly Sunday crossword and acrostic puzzle, both of which have provided respite from thinking about all the ways in which our planet is doomed. I now know that the word yoga literally means “union,” and I’ve learned the preferred spelling of mah-jongg. And maybe today’s news will be a little more hopeful. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Mask Up, People!

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It’s back to school time, and that means going to your local Target or Walmart to pick up notebooks, pencils, looseleaf paper – and masks! The opening of this school year has unfortunately coincided with a surge in coronavirus infections, mostly from the highly contagious delta variant that is sweeping the nation. The surge has alarmed governors and school district officials, many of whom have prudently decided to require mask wearing for students and staff as the school year begins.

Enter the protests. A suburban Chicago teen was suspended recently for refusing to wear a mask on the first day of school. Her mother was outraged at this infringement on her daughter’s rights. (“Suburban high school freshman suspended after refusing to wear a mask,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 15, 2021) Yes, it’s obvious we are turning our country into a police state in which we make unreasonable demands on the populace for the dubious purpose of saving lives.

Let us recall the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. After terrorists hijacked airplanes and drove them into buildings, killing about 3,000 people, our stunned and horrified nation agreed to do anything that might lessen the risk of a repeat of such a devastating, if exceedingly rare, incident. Nowadays, before one wants to board a plane, one must do the following: divest oneself of any liquids over 3 ounces in volume; show identification to a TSA agent; take off shoes and jackets, remove electronics from backpacks, and submit to x-rays of one’s person and possessions; and occasionally go through a physical search of one’s person if flagged for random screening. I have never once seen or heard of an individual protesting this infringement upon our rights.

Today we face an unseen enemy that has killed more than 600,000 Americans, yet many people are unwilling to take a few simple and relatively painless steps to prevent further fatalities. For one thing, we have fallen far short of the goal to vaccinate enough people against COVID-19 to develop herd immunity. This puts both vaccinated and unvaccinated people at risk, as variants develop that may become able to circumvent the protection of the vaccine. Recent evidence has shown that fully vaccinated people can become infected with COVID-19. And although the vast majority of those people don’t become seriously ill, they are at risk of passing on the infection to others who may be more vulnerable.

Particularly in schools, we are facing a largely unvaccinated portion of our population. The vaccine has only recently been approved for children ages 12 years and up. And younger children have not had the opportunity to receive the vaccine at all. It only makes sense to require masks in schools to help slow the spread of the virus. But asking kids to put a cotton or paper covering over their noses and mouths during the school day is, for some, a bridge too far.

In the middle of the Twentieth Century, a scourge called polio attacked tens of thousands of children. The disease caused paralysis and death and was the most feared virus of the time. But in 1955, Jonas Salk created a vaccine that was embraced wholeheartedly by a grateful populace, leading to the virtual eradication of the disease. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was himself paralyzed by polio as a child, led the national effort to rid the world of this horrific virus. There have been similar success stories with other serious viruses such as smallpox and measles.

Perhaps if COVID-19 had primarily targeted our children, our country would have been more willing to embrace a sensible approach to prevention. But this pandemic is not over. And although there is currently no evidence that children are at particular risk from the virus, I think it’s foolhardy to send them back off to school without protecting them and others from COVID-19.

So it’s time to mask up again and continue the effort to get people vaccinated. Marvel superheroes may wear capes; real life ones wear masks!

Guns Blazing

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The tragic shooting death of Chicago police officer Ella French over the weekend has spawned many more questions than answers. Why did a routine traffic stop end in the death of one police officer and the serious wounding of a second? The two suspects were apprehended shortly after the shooting, but it remains a mystery as to why one fled while the other retrieved a gun from the car and started shooting. One thing we do know is that an Indiana man purchased the weapon for the two suspects, presumably because local ordinances and/or their own criminal records prohibited them from legally obtaining a gun. (“Brothers charged in weekend shooting that killed Chicago police officer Ella French and wounded second cop,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 10, 2021)

Critics who point to the nonstop gun violence in Chicago as evidence that strict gun laws don’t work need to acknowledge that the lax gun laws next door contribute significantly to the number of illegal weapons on the streets of the city. According to the Chicago Police Department’s 2017 Gun Trace Report, “Federally licensed firearms dealers (“FFL”) in suburban Cook County and Illinois collar counties, as well as several located just across the state border in Indiana, are the primary source of illegal guns seized in Chicago.” The report also makes a point that should be obvious: “It is self-evident that the availability of illegally circulated firearms in Chicago is directly connected to its deadly street violence. Simply put, each conflict becomes potentially more lethal due to easy access to a gun.”

The alleged suspects in the shooting of Officer French are, of course, the ones responsible for her death, and they must be held to account. But without access to an illegal weapon, the brothers would not have been able to end her life just because she and her partner stopped them for driving a car with expired license plates. I’m sure if you asked most police officers, they would say they’d prefer it if most people did not possess firearms. It just makes their job that much more risky. Ella French died because of our inability to end the American love affair with guns.

I realize that the issues surrounding gun violence are complex. Poverty, mental health issues, and stress all contribute to incidences of violence in our society. There are plenty of law-abiding citizens who handle their guns responsibly. Yet the availability of illegal firearms in Chicago is literally ravishing our city. We won’t stop having these bloody weekends until we as a society demand legislation that truly prevents the flow of illegal weapons.

I pray for Ella French’s family, who are suffering an unspeakable loss. I pray that French’s wounded partner is able to survive his critical injuries. I pray for our beloved city and the countless lives destroyed by gun violence within it. It doesn’t have to be this way. We need the courage to make it stop. Common sense gun laws would be an excellent start.