Essay: ‘Tis the Season

Dec 17, 2014

Demonstrators gather in Philadelphia to protest the Eric Garner grand jury decision during a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at City Hall.
Credit Mark Makela/Getty Images

There's been violence in the news this week - the mass murder of school children in Pakistan, the hostage drama and killings in Sydney, Australia.

And it's a time of year that leads Lake Effect essayist Aleta Chossek to think back on the violence that touched her family, years ago.

Twenty years ago on a December night when light snow blew across the Grand Appliance parking lot in Waukegan, Illinois, a man entered the store and bludgeoned the owner, my father, Fred Reckling to death. A week later reeling from shock, trauma and grief, my sister and I stepped into a grocery store, saw the red and green garland and heard Jingle Bells blaring from the store sound system. We stared at each other immobilized as busy shoppers streamed past us. With only a look, without speaking, we turned and left the store, empty-handed.

As we enter another Christmas season, I am now able to get groceries, but the knot in the pit of my stomach is as dependable as the Salvation Army bell ringers. I would love to say that because of my dad’s death, the world has become more just, more caring, less violent. But I cannot.

Two years ago, also in December, in Newtown, Connecticut, the unthinkable happened, a deranged man, Adam Lanza, entered Sandy Hook elementary school and killed twenty children and six adults. Devastated parents mourned with the slogan, “Not One More.” Since Sandy Hook, the group Everytown for Gun Safety lists ninety-two incidents of a person firing a weapon in a school. 92 in 22 months. What have we learned from the tragedy of Sandy Hook? How do those families celebrate the season?

Since Sandy Hook how many children have died by gunshot? 194 in 2013 alone.

In my hometown, Milwaukee, 11 children have died from gunshot wounds in 2014, most recently Layleh Peterson sitting in her grandfather’s lap.

‘Tis the Season of Holly Jolly music, endless ads, small white caskets and the mockery of “Not One More.”

Richard Slotkin, cultural historian and author of Gunfighter Nation, observed that Adam Lanza approached the Sandy Hook shootings like a video game player. His arsenal and his ammunition were assembled as they are on video games. He reloaded clips as the video characters do.

Grand Theft Auto is the most purchased and played video game in the United States. It comes with the warning of “intense violence, blood and gore.” A person does not have to be a gamer to be inundated with violent images and destruction. Much of our television drama is consumed with action adventures and crime series. If not watching, fiction television or online, we get the same numbing effect on the nightly news complete with endless body counts from vehicular homicide, domestic violence or gang warfare.

'Tis the season of football play-offs, Scrooge and Tiny Tim, Cyber Monday video gaming system sales, and Grand Jury decisions.

This fall was dominated by the issue of police killing unarmed black men. In Ferguson, Missouri the police killed Michael Brown and the violence continues. In Milwaukee, Dontre Hamilton’s family and supporters demonstrate in frustration over his death at the hands of police. In New York, another Grand Jury refuses to indict in a choke hold death, another police officer and unarmed black man.

‘Tis the Season to weep for the victims, to mourn with their families and the police, and to pray for Peace on Earth.

On this the twentieth anniversary of Dad’s murder, I hope for a moment to turn away from the angry response, the violent reaction, to turn towards kindness, towards seeing one another as someone’s father, son or daughter. At the sentencing hearing for my father’s murderer, Dad was described as a gentleman and a gentle man. My wish for this season, that day, December 9, is that his legacy of gentleness might prevail.

‘Tis the Season.