On Hometown Violence & Tragedy

As some of you may know, there has been a lot of turmoil in my hometown over the past few weeks, everything from fatal car wrecks, teenage suicides, a domestic violence turned murder/suicide, & a teenager shooting his grandfather (thankfully not fatally).  Despite having my own blog I try to maintain a bit of anonymity because the world really is a scary place, but I will say that one of these incidents hit very close to home for me & my family & thus these past few weeks have not been an easy time for us.

A hand writes the word

For those of you who don’t know me in real life, a bit of context may be needed.  To clarify, I grew up in a very small town in central Virginia, the kind of place with one elementary school, one middle school, one high school (with about 700 students total), & literally a handful of stoplights in the whole county.  It’s the kind of place with more churches & hunting clubs than restaurants or places of business.  We didn’t even have 911 until I was at least 16 or 17.  And, no, I am not making that up!

The Visitors Center in my hometown

The Visitors Center in my hometown

Anyway, some people from my hometown, maybe even some of my own family, will probably not like this post, but I feel like I have to write it for my own sanity.  I apologize in advance to anyone I offend; please know I’m just expressing my own emotions at this difficult time.

Every time something violent happens in my hometown, there is always an outcry in the community about how unexpected & unaccountable it is that such a thing could happen in our “peaceful little town.”  And every time, I have to ask myself why people are surprised at these things because I am not.  As I’ve mentioned several times before on this blog, Agatha Christie was so accurate when she observed (through her character Miss Marple) that every kind of evil in the world is just as easily found in the smallest village as it is anywhere else in the world.  I’m not surprised when violent things happen in my hometown because I could easily tell you all kinds of scandals that have happened there just in my lifetime.  Small towns aren’t any more wholesome or peaceful than anywhere else in the world.  Anyone who thinks so is just kidding themselves as far as I’m concerned.Miss Marple quote

Small towns are a great place to live if you go with the flow, don’t buck traditions, don’t ask a lot of questions, & don’t mind everyone knowing your business before even you do.  But I’m not that kind of person, I never really was, & I never could be even if I wanted to be.  My brain just isn’t wired that way, so I guess it’s no surprise that I never really fit in there & probably never could.  To those of you who are wired more like I am but manage to live in my hometown, or the thousands of small towns like it, kudos to you because I’d have lost my sanity a long time ago.  You’re clearly much stronger than I.question everything

I’ll be the first to admit that growing up I didn’t give a lot of thought to leaving my hometown.  I was so sheltered that it wasn’t till I was in high school & started going to band competitions in other parts of the state that I began to realize what a different world I was living in than “everyone else.”  And even then I wasn’t really fired up about leaving like so many of my classmates were.  How ironic then that so many others who were desperate to get away are exactly the ones still living there now with no real plans of leaving while I on the other hand left for college & basically never looked back . . .small town quote

Anyway, it’s at times like these that I’m especially glad that my husband & I managed to escape our hometown & have made every effort to ensure that we never end up back there.  I’m probably a horrible person for thinking this, much less admitting it, but in all seriousness one of my greatest fears in life is that for some reason or another I will end up living there again somedayleft_a_small_town_,-20749

I don’t know how to admit these things without sounding like I hated my childhood or that I have zero affection for my family & my hometown.  None of those things could be further from the truth.  However, I can’t help but want something different for my own future children.  It’s not that I resent my parents for raising me how & where they did because I don’t.  I just want my kids to experience a different way of life.  I want them to grow up around kids from all kinds of cultures.  I want them to attend schools that give them more options than I had.  I want them to grow up somewhere that they don’t have to leave in order to get a decent job that pays enough that they can support themselves & their families & pay off any student loans they may have.  Are these things too much to ask?  I don’t think so.diverse kids

I’m not naïve enough to think that where I live now is perfect or that anywhere in the world is.  There is certainly no utopia on this planet, & I know that no matter where I end up raising my kids someday they won’t be immune to violence, gossip, bullying, teenage pregnancy, poverty, closed-mindedness, or any of the negative things that I associate so strongly with my hometown.  The world is far from perfect & is indeed often a scary, violent place.  But every fiber of my being tells me that where I am now is where I need to be & will give me a better shot at raising my children the way I see best.Poverty-Quotes-16

I’ve probably already offended enough people, so I might as well go ahead & offend a few more . . . The other thing that drives me batty about how my hometown reacts to such turbulent events as we’ve recently experienced is the incessant call to prayer.  I’m not saying people shouldn’t pray; I’m just saying maybe our focus should be on putting some actions behind those prayers.  Furthermore, maybe we should start asking ourselves the difficult questions that no one wants to ask, like why our teenage pregnancy & poverty rates are through the roof, even for the central VA area.  Maybe we need to start focusing on ways to reduce these phenomena because whether we like it or not they are statistically linked to a lot of really negative outcomes, including violence.  Additionally, maybe it’s time that we figure out why race relations in our town are still far from acceptable.  I know I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that. prayerchart

To those of you who still live in my hometown & are trying to make a positive difference, my proverbial hat is off to you.  There is a part of me that feels like a traitor for being so negative about my hometown, yet I can’t help but see it as a place full of unfulfilled dreams, broken hearts, & stagnancy.  Please know that I don’t think everyone who lives there is a waste of space & miserable.  I just know that I couldn’t be happy there anymore.  And I know that having prayer vigils isn’t going to solve any of our problems; it’s just going to make us feel better momentarily . . . until the next tragedy hits us.

Ok, that’s it for today.  I hope that you’ll forgive me for my blasphemy, but I know I can’t be the only one feeling this way.

P.S. If I really didn’t care about my hometown, I wouldn’t have bothered to write this post.

Nothing Is Sacred

When I was a teenager, I remember hearing a Southern gospel song that prominently featured the following line: “God said it, that settles it, & that’s good enough for me” (or something very similar to that).  At the time I was still very much enmeshed in the conservative Baptist culture in which I was raised, & yet even then I remember feeling there was something a bit unsettling about those lyrics.  As a budding adult who had always loved science, indeed all types of learning, I suppose it was the blind faith those words implied that scared me.  As I’ve grown up & moved away from that culture, I now look back on that song with true horror.  I have no idea who sung it or what it was called, but I’ve never forgotten those words, probably because they so perfectly sum up the way so many Americans still feel about religion, among other subjects. skeptic quote

As I was telling a friend a few days ago, I think what separates me (& the friend to whom I was talking, as well as my husband) from a lot of people is the fact that there is nothing truly sacred to me in this world.  What I mean by that is that there is nothing that is beyond question.  From religion to politics, the government to the military, my career to my relationships, there is nothing in my mind that is not open to questioning & rational debate.  I believe this is one reason I feel such a disconnect with so many of my fellow Americans, particularly here in the South.  I also find that many people have the impression that those of us who are skeptics are cynical a$$holes who hate everyone & everything.  Please believe me when I say that could not be further from the truth.  Or actually, don’t just believe my words, let my actions show it to you (for those of you who know me in real life, that is).george bernard shaw quote

As an aside, looking back on how I grew up, I find it really scary that church services never (or very, very rarely) featured a time for people to ask questions.  Instead we all sat there quietly in our pews (with the exception of a few hearty “Amens” scattered here & there) & listened to one man preach to us.  If that doesn’t sound like indoctrination & an imbalance of power, I don’t know what does.  I’ll never forget a particular sermon in which the pastor railed against a group of high school or college athletes who met President Bush & had the audacity to wear sandals to the event.  Even then, I remember thinking this couldn’t possibly be something Jesus would give two hoots about, but looking back I’m even more horrified, as this now strikes me as simply ludicrous.  Not to mention, I can’t help but question whether the pastor would have been nearly so perturbed if the president had happened to be from a party whose name started with a D! . . . Oh wait, there I go questioning things again. thomas huxley quoet

When it comes to politics, I find that many of my fellow Americans are afraid to question the current wars in the Middle East because doing so is “not supporting the troops.”  I for one fail to see how this is at all a logical argument.  Because I do value the lives of our troops so highly, I do not want to see them used as pawns in the hands of a corrupt government scheme to involve ourselves in the affairs of countries who want nothing to do with us, the end result of which is simply creating more & more people who hate America.  Seems to me like we our efforts are just backfiring tremendously.question everything

I could give dozens of more examples of how I feel so many people do not want to question the status quo, but I’m trying to be brief & concise & not stray too far from the subject at hand.  I also realize I am being sacrilegious & generally a bit of a heretic here, but I’m slowly getting to the point in my life where I’d rather be truly honest about my beliefs than just smile & nod to keep the peace.  I for one know I am going to raise my kids to be skeptics too.  Frankly I feel like I was a born skeptic; I just kept it under wraps for a while because I felt so guilty for being this way.  Now I realize what an incredible advantage it can be to be a skeptic in a world that is constantly trying to sell us something, from the latest new gadget to political schemes & religious fanaticism.  Indeed, when I have children someday, I intend to raise them to be eternal skeptics & to question everything.  Everything, that is, except my love for them. skeptic quote 2

P.S. To anyone who truly does think my skepticism makes me a deluded heretic, feel free to pray for me or whatever makes you feel better.  Just know that I’m happier & more at peace with life than I’ve ever been.  Cheers!