On the eve of December 14th, 2012, my pre-holiday merriment was devoid of any grim imaginings of the mind-numbing violence we would learn of just hours later at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
My favorite holiday song “Grown-up Christmas List” was blaring that night as just one of the selections (without special significance) on a compilation CD and functioning mostly as background music as I toiled with gift boxes and bows.
I haven’t listened to those lyrics in the same way since last Friday morning when sorrow replaced joy at the news of more young souls plucked before the promise of their bloom.
I was reminded of my own blessed childhood after taping an interview with Susan Pope earlier that week. Pope is a Danville, Ky., playwright, musician, and actor who grew up in a violent household. Her father, who she says suffered from mental illness, exercised his rage on her mother, and sometimes on her and her sister. Her mother would excuse his abuse as provocation on her part, an untruth she needed to believe more than her daughters. After years of abuse, her mother found the courage to leave.
Violence carries its scars, and most of them reside in a survivor’s mind. In dramatic fashion with enormous physicality and dark humor, Susan confronts the trauma of her violent past in her one-woman play “Dreadfully White.” She plays 10 different characters with five-and-a-half Styrofoam wig heads as props and supporting cast. Her portrayal of family abuse is not “in-your-face” or gratuitous. It’s abstract, not purely autobiographical and, at times, zany.
In our interview last week, Susan told me her story of survival and forgiveness and how she reconciled her past so as not to taint her own intimate and parent-child relationships in adulthood. You can watch the show online.
The day of the Newtown shooting, I also learned during another show taping how some who’ve perpetrated violence find redemption beyond facing the consequences for their crimes. In an interview set to air this weekend, ex-con Logan Avritt tells me how he lived a “death-style” life of gang violence. He terrorized targets for money, possessions, or simply because he could — and paid the price for it with a 10-year prison sentence.
Avritt and Quincy Murdock, a former UK football player turned social worker in Fayette County public schools, are helping at-risk kids steer clear of youth violence and gang involvement through their program M.A.D.E. which stands for Motivating Youth All Day Every day. The program teaches conflict resolution, cultural diversity, and media literacy. Their partnership is helping keep kids in school and is getting more diplomas in the hands of those seemingly destined for doom. Our conversation airs Friday at 5pm ET on KET and Sunday at 1:30pm on KET.
In these perilous times when we mourn the premature death (by the most heinous means) of little children and brave adults, I remind myself of the love of those angels and what their deaths teach us.
I am reminded that our children are murdered each day on the streets of our urban cores. Our children are taunted by gangs and lured into their dirty work. They struggle against hunger and sometimes fall victim to it. They suffer at the hands of those entrusted with their care and are failed by a health system that treats the body apart from the mind.
Since Friday, December 14, I appreciate even more those who share their own real-life nightmares of survival, consequence and redemption, and find lessons of healing layered throughout.
In our nation’s grief, we are bound by more than collective condolences for innocents lost. We are united by a grown-up Christmas wish we pray to come true, where “no more lives torn apart, that wars would never start and time would heal all hearts. Every man would have a friend, and right would always win and love would never end…”
Happy Holidays and God bless broken hearts and a healing nation.