The photograph on the front page of the Sunday Times People page immediately caught my eye.
Standing and smiling, West Scranton High School’s teenage “Miss Invader” posed in the uniform she wears for school spirit activities during her school’s football games. The concept of Miss Invader is a time-honored “tradition” in West Side that is meant to instill school spirit and encourage support for the home team.
The child in the picture clutched a gun.
The rifle was a mock gun, of course, sculpted the way wooden rifles have been shaped for generations of high school band front twirlers who show off their hand-eye-coordination skills to stands full of cheering fans.
The band front girls in their white boots held wooden rifles at my high school when I played football in 1968.
But that was then.
This is now.
In the meantime, dozens of children have died at schools across the nation as a result of real guns fired by real invaders who assaulted everything that’s holy in America.
The age of innocence has left the high school field.
As carnage and gunfire once again erupted yesterday at an American military installation on American soil, we faced the grim spectrum of what to do in the aftermath. That means fighting the glorification of guns in all aspects of our culture. That also means prying little fingers from toy guns as a way to try to spread the appeal of non-violence over weapons.
As the impact of yesterday’s slaughter spread, I tried my best to hold a reasonable discussion about the impact Most people had little to say about the attack at the Navy Yard that killed 12 and gravely wounded others. But when I brought up Miss Invader, you’d have thought I had launched an assault against West Side all by myself.
“How dare you!” read a text message. “The bodies aren’t even cold in DC and you’re attacking our children. How dare you!”
I wasn’t attacking anybody.
I was challenging adults – school board members, principals, teachers, parents and other concerned citizens who are responsible for supervising and guiding our children in the face of a continuing madness fueled by arms and ammunition. I was asking grown men and women in charge of our schools to reflect on the terrible times in which we live and do their best to wisely shape young, impressionable minds. I was holding up a broken mirror to a hard community that needs to think a little deeper about the message we provide to children about what is right and what is wrong
And putting a fake rifle in the hands of a young girl is wrong.
But she never points the gun at anybody, said a caller in defense of Miss Invader.
That’s reassuring, I said.
She just dances with it, the caller said.
She just dances with it, I thought.
In this day and age, how could school administrators approve the appearance of an impressionable child on the 50-yard line to dance with a blue stars and sequin-covered rifle as a show of “patriotism” and school spirit?
Another caller said he simply hadn’t thought about the matter before.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
I’m thinking about it and want you to think about it
Reconsider the “good old days” (that weren’t all that good for countless people) when you played in the band or strutted or cheered or played high school football and America somehow seemed innocent – even though innocence has never blessed America.
How dare you not rethink your position?
I asked a caller yesterday if he thought the children at Columbine would appreciate gun-dancing school spirits at their next home football game.
“They’re all dead, aren’t they?” the caller responded with senseless bitter arrogance in his voice.
Put down the gun, West Scranton.
Arm yourself and your children with an abundance of peace and love and real education – the kid of learning that leads to thinking and feeling and living – the kind that stops abruptly in a flesh and blood spatter as soon as a shooter puts a bullet in the head of the next vulnerable school child.