Tears For My Hometown by William Klein

There’s a funny app that pulls off an undeniably funny trick. It’s called the “Crying App.” My nephew pulled a fast one on me at dinner. He slyly pulled out his phone and began recording me.  “How you doing?  You happy?” He asked.

I was stoic, almost robotic. “I’m great! Couldn’t be better. Great food, brilliant company, what a lovely way to celebrate your sister’s graduation from college,” I said.

When he played my response back to me, there I was. I looked like a crying opera singer in the climactic scene of a tragedy; dazed and confused, wrinkled brow, reddening eyes and face, lost, trying to hold back the flow of tears and failing miserably, a hot mess and unable to keep it together. Nothing like I had portrayed to him just moments before. 

If we were to play it for friends I would’ve had a flood of calls of support and encouragement telling me to keep a stiff upper lip and to keep pushing through whatever’s bothering me. We had a good laugh about it.

Technology has achieved sublime artful qualities blending illusion, pathos and humor to form an amusing turn of image.

But I couldn’t help but think of how art imitates life. How many times we see the image in reverse? This weekend a white supremacist opened fire on a Tops “Friendly Neighborhood Supermarket” in my old hometown of Buffalo, New York. I’ve been to that market many times. I imagine myself in its clean isles, bone chilling air-conditioned freshness, shopping for my favorite Buffalo brands of Bison Brand Dip, Tops heart pastries, Sahlen’s Hot Dogs and Weber’s Hot Mustard.

This sunny Saturday afternoon the shooter killed 10 African Americans and injured 3. One of the dead was a security guard who tried to fire back and was killed in the line of duty.

It was a morose scene as politicians filled the airways sharing the shocking news and trying to alleviate the fears in a community. News outlets replay the 911 calls calmly calling for backup at the store on Jefferson.

It prompted me to address the issue with my class today. I attempted to engage my students who are mostly African American to see how they felt about this. A few hadn’t heard about it. There were a few students who articulated sadness and empathy, but for the most part, the students put up a strong face and wanted to go about their business.  They’ve seen this before and have become used to it. One student said, “Didn’t happen to my family, not much I can do.” This statement broke my heart. I thought, “It hasn’t happened yet.  Haven’t I taught you anything about fighting for a better world?”

I asked a colleague his thoughts about this statement, and he sadly articulated what I have come to understand all too well. “It doesn’t impact us until it happens to us or someone we love.” There is an empathy gap in the hearts and minds of our teenagers. It can be said of our fellow Americans as well.

We’ve become immune to the cordoned off murder scenes where we see images of loved ones clutching others for every breath of support available. Yet the insanity marches on. No change.

I wanted my students to tell me that they care enough to do something about it.  They are the hope for the future. I wanted them to assure me that there is political will to change and stop the insanity of mass shootings that tend to only happen in our country.

Unfortunately, it’s like that “Crying App.”  We see one thing – harrowing death, sadness, helplessness but project another image — an image of strength and false security.

I’m not so naïve as to believe that we can change laws for the better in America. The fascination and love for guns over the lives of others haunts me every time I hear the news of a new shooting.

We have proven at times in this country, though, that people matter. Our will to serve the greater good rises above any injustice we face. We saw it in New York during 911. This will is not just a kind face we wear to appease our neighbors and move on. It’s in the genuine regard we have for something meaningful. It’s in the acknowledgement that there is something deeper going on when we live in fear and fail to address the problems at hand by confronting them through violent means.

I know there is hope. I still see it in my students. I chose to take a look at the issue the student who showed no concern above chose for his final project.  The topic he chose is gun violence.  The task is to start a non-profit organization based on a topic that is close to your heart. One of the questions I asked was why did you choose this topic?

His response, “I had an uncle die at the hands of gun violence. I’m tired of people making gun violence the norm.” 

How does this impact other issues?

“This (issue) impacts other issues because we can’t fix these problems when the amount of people that are dying are dying — and we need the people in order to help fix other problems like beach cleanup and educational inequality. The people that die by gun violence are the same people that had potential to make a change in the world but they weren’t given that choice once gun violence came into play.”

The illusions we face daily are many. Don’t be surprised if the strong face demonstrates a courage to express vulnerability in the name of change and does something about it.

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