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Tommy Druen: Lack of Community

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By Tommy Druen

Typically, I try to keep this column decently lighthearted. I may talk about overriding cultural issues, but I avoid the most contentious. The main reason for that is there is enough in our world that seeks to drive wedges between people already. There is a whole industry dedicated to nothing but division and derision, and those who engage in it profit nicely.

However, as I picked up my two elementary school children from their last day of school, I wasn't feeling lighthearted. As I attended my son's fifth grade graduation, I wasn't feeling the joy that I should have. Yes, I was happy, but I was also flooded with moments of guilt and sobriety. Over a thousand miles away, I knew there were nineteen fathers who would never get to attend their child's fifth grade graduation, never again pick up their child on the last day of school, never again hug them, hold them, or love them the same way again.

Prior to May 24th, I had never heard of Uvalde, Texas. And I wish I never had. At 15,000 people, it sits 60 miles from the Mexican border in an otherwise unpopulated area. It's the hometown of former Vice-President John Nance Garner, cowgirl Dale Evans and actor Matthew McConaughey. And I'm sure, under most circumstances, it is a lovely town. But, on May 24th, my son's birthday, it became the scene of the incomprehensible and horrific massacre of nineteen 9-11 year olds, as well as two of their teachers.

It was the most fatal school shooting since the slaughter of twenty first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary ten years ago. Sadly, however, there was not a lack of others during that time. Since May, 2012, there have been 273 school shootings in the United States. Read that again and let it soak in. Two. Hundred. And. Seventy-Three.

They have happened in the bluest of blue states, like Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorcester, Massachusetts. They have happened in the reddest of red, like Union Middle School in Sandy, Utah. They have happened in poor communities like Newton Elementary School in Newton, Mississippi. And they have happened in affluent ones like Lely High School in Naples, Florida. They have happened in the most urban of areas like Bowen High School in Chicago. And they have happened in the most rural, such as Rigby Middle School in Rigby, Idaho. If we have learned anything over the course of just these past ten years it is that no school, no community is immune, no matter where they are.

What happened immediately following Uvalde was predictable, sadly because we see it all too often. The talking heads of television began blaming everyone but themselves. Radio talk shows put on callers to validate their own opinions. And, of course, it seems half the world went to social media espousing what they believe the best answer is.

My feeds have been flooded with people, many friends, advocating for such changes as complete bans on all firearms, arming teachers, posting military personnel at every school, not allowing a purchase of a firearm unless someone has a child, etc.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us there is no new thing under the sun. That is something I fully believe. Good and evil have existed from time immemorial. Yes, schools have never been 100% safe and, no matter what is done, they never will be. Yet, the simple truth is these types of atrocities have become much more common. Compare the 273 school shootings of the past ten years to the 7 that took place during the 1930s. What made that difference?

Some would advocate it is the proliferation of firearms. There is no doubt the United States is armed to the teeth. For every 100 people in our nation, there are 120 civilian-owned firearms. That's more than double Saudi Arabia, which ranks second in the world at 53 per 100 people. However, can we really say they are easier to obtain now than in the 1930s? At that point there were no age restrictions on purchasing firearms, no gun registries, and I dare say very few weapons were locked away when not in use.

Others claim it is mental issues. Once again, the data for the United States is not very flattering. According to the World Health Organization, 5.9% of Americans suffer from clinical depression, trailing only war-torn Ukraine. However, while I'm sure it was vastly undiagnosed, I would speculate that clinical depression was quite high during The Great Depression. What I do know is that the National Institutes of Health's data shows the suicide rate for the 1930s was approximately double what it is for these past ten years.

So while people want to blame firearms and mental illness, and I would hesitate to say they are not contributing factors, the data demonstrates there is something more driving this. Our challenge is not only to identify it, but correct it.

By no means do I have the answer to either of those, but I do have a theory of what a contributing factor is. As often, I blame the decline of community. As a child, my dad would frequently need to go to Edmunds Grocery in Randolph, Kentucky, approximately two miles from our home. In that two mile ride, we'd play a game where I would tell him who lived in each house. In that stretch, there were probably twenty houses. And it wasn't just that we knew who lived in them, but that we knew the majority of the people . . . and would likely see some at the store when we got there. Even a tender age, I knew people like Clifton Edmunds, Marvin Harbison, Richey Coffey, all respected men of the community, were not only my dad's friends, but would be there for me if I ever needed them.

I'm afraid that doesn't exist today. I now live on a small road in Scott County that is approximately three miles long. In that three miles there are approximately thirty houses. As an adult, I can name who lives in maybe four of them. I doubt my children could get that high.

We are more connected to the world than we have ever been. Yet those connections have severed the bonds to the ones closest to us. Church attendance is higher now than it was in the 1930s, but the small community ones are dying as the megachurches grow. Civic organizations like the Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions clubs have aging membership. High school sports used to be the epicenter of a community, yet now even the biggest schools with the best teams can't fill their bleachers. We don't have the metaphorical ties that bind like we once did, and maybe that contributes to the ease of which some take another life. When you see people as numbers, it just doesn't mean as much.

Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors, said, "What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."

Unlike others, I will not claim to have any magic answers to solve the problem. However, I believe building and fortifying our own personal communities can only help. And I know I will be hugging my children tighter.

Tommy Druen is a native of Metcalfe County, with roots in Adair County going back to the 18th century. He presently lives in Georgetown, Kentucky and can be reached at

This story was posted on 2022-06-01 08:01:23
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