Most are familiar with the fable describing a frog being boiled alive slowly. The premise is that if a frog is suddenly dropped into boiling water, it will jump the heck out immediately. If the frog is put in tepid water, however, which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.
I have been thinking of this fable a lot lately, particularly after the tragic shooting deaths of fourteen students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL (just an hour’s drive south of Lake Worth, where our family lived from 1981-86.)
Once I heard the news, I tried to think of the last school shooting that dominate the American news cycle, at least for a day or two. I remembered Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, of course, and Virginia Tech (mainly because I had two campus ministry colleagues there.) I also could conjure up memories of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, because Newtown is close to New Haven, where I went to seminary and served as an interim Lutheran campus pastor. (Since then I have come to know novelist Sophfronia Scott, whose son Tain was a pupil at the school at the time.)
A much-forgotten incident happened close to home in Lancaster County, PA, my wife Diane’s home stomping grounds. Charles Carl Roberts, an adult in the community, broke into a one-room Amish schoolhouse and killed six girls and then himself in 2006.
Do you remember what as the most recent school mass shooting episode immediately prior to Parkland? I’ll bet you cannot. If you answer, Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR, where ten students were shot and killed, I’ll suspect you were just looking it up online. It’s difficult to remember because there have simply been too many of them to remember.
Consider this: there have been thirty-one such shootings in which at least six people have died since Columbine in 1999. After Sandy Hook, there have been 148, 148!! incidents involving gun violence or attempted or intended gun violence in American schools. And, believe it or not, three students have been shot and killed at education institutions since Parkland.
I am wondering if we have become so inured to mass shootings in schools and elsewhere that we have come to accept them as the new normal.
You know the routine: a student, often bullied by others, isolated by poor social skills, brings a high-powered firearm into a school building and proceeds to kill either targeted teachers or students, or at people in the school randomly. The perpetrator, almost always male, is labeled as crazy, mentally ill, or a “monster”. We pay attention for a day or two. A few politicians (usually Democrats) call for tighter gun control. The public tells pollsters that it tends to favor stricter rules for gun ownership. The National Rifle Association expresses its opposition to such measures. Politicians go back to twiddling their thumbs. We the public go back to watching Game of Thrones or reading the latest John Grisham novel.
What we don’t notice, however, is that a part of us that makes us human, that reflects our status as children of God, has died in the boiling water.
Actually, since the nineteenth century, scientists have proven that the frog-in-boiling- water fable is not true. The premise is false. Don’t try this at home. Scientists have observed the poor amphibians in water gradually brought to a boil. What they report is that eventually the frog finds the temperature too unbearable and does indeed jump out.
That gives me hope. It means that we are not doomed to remain stuck in the present boiling water in regards to gun violence. In fact, we may just be at the exact point when we are prepared finally, after all those school shootings, to jump out of the water.
It’s not just the frog, but young people who give me hope. How impressive was the response by a large portion of the student body of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in the days after the shootings? They refused to remain inundated in the boiling water. They demonstrated 1960s-style before the Florida legislature and lay down in protest in front of the White House. They have organized a March for Our Lives on March 24 in the city of Parkland, and in Washington, DC to which all gun control activists are invited to express their solidarity with the victims and survivors. The students have been a thorn in the side of politicians and the NRA. They are saying, “ENOUGH!” and asking the rest of us to join the chorus. They want to make sure that what didn’t happen after Newtown, except in the Connecticut legislature, will happen now in state legislatures all over the country and in the halls of a do-nothing Congress.
Already, a miracle has happened. One of the most conservative legislatures in the United States, the Florida legislature, passed a law earlier this week to raise the legal age for the purchase of a firearm to 21 and require a three-day waiting period. Parkland students are not pleased that the legislators kowtowed to the NRA and failed to ban the kind of assault weapon used by Nicolas Cruz to kill thirteen of their fellow students.
Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart, among others, will no longer sell guns to young people under age 18.
Even the current president, the most NRA-friendly president elected since Ronald Reagan, has threatened to go against the organization that filled his election kitty in several ways, and chided his Republican colleagues for being afraid of the NRA. Wouldn’t it be an irony of Providence if this president so enthusiastically supportive of his election, is the one who breaks the back of the NRA, and helps bring about the end of the NRA’s stranglehold on our political process?
Friends, come on out of the water! The air is fine.
The publication and release of my second novel, Accidental Saviors, is scheduled for mid-April. Stay tuned for updates.
Until the next time, live this unique, God-given day to the fullest!
This and others of my blogs can be accessed on my new website: jacksaarela.com