Jewish World Review Oct. 15, 2002 / 9 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
Leonard Pitts, Jr.
A reminder of life's random cruelty
The trees were a big part of the attraction.
There were other reasons, of course, but when I moved my family to Prince George's County in Maryland a few years back, one of the things I looked forward to was living among the trees. There was something about them that fostered a sense of well-being. I enjoyed the sense of remove that came from wandering country lanes winding lazily through the forest.
Seven years later, much of the forest is gone, victim of the nation's crying need for more Blockbusters and Radio Shacks. And suddenly, much of that sense of remove is gone as well, victim of a man - almost certainly, a man - with a high-powered rifle. Since last week, this individual has been shooting people at random in Washington, D.C., and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs.
Last Monday morning, the violence came to Prince George's, as a 13-year-old boy arriving for middle school was shot and grievously injured. The shooter remains at large. And how is this for an irony: It's said that he sets up in the forest, fires on his victims from out of the trees.
CLOSE TO HOME
It's my profound hope that by the time you read this, they've found this sick twitch and locked him under the jail.
If you sense an edge in my voice, well it's different, isn't it, when it hits close?
When it happens across the country or in the next state or even in the adjoining ZIP Code, you feel terrible about it, sure. But it's something else again when it happens in places you know and go. Then it's personal, then it's in your face, then it's something you can't escape through those convenient lies you tell yourself about how it can't happen here.
Because it already has.
I was out of town when the 13-year-old got shot. Got the news from my wife on my cell. I thought I was fine with it, thought I was handling it OK. Then my friend Howard called and I heard myself telling him that, had the shooting happened half an hour later, my wife and daughter would have been driving by that very spot. I felt a cold shudder travel through my body. I staggered.
A half an hour, man. Variables of time and space.
It stuns me to remember that I grew up in a place where this happened all the time. In South Central L.A., warfare between street gangs made random violence routine. Seemed like every weekend, somebody who was just standing there, some baby in its father's arms, some grandmother taking the air on her front porch, was snatched from life by a fusillade of bullets fired by some idiot in a car aiming at somebody else.
And you know, it's amazing what human beings can adapt to when they're exposed to it long enough. Because I don't remember a chill ever climbing my legs back then. I don't remember being staggered at the news that, two streets over, some stranger was dead.
But it's different now, and I find myself wishing I still possessed whatever it was I had then, whatever thing allowed you to travel so easily upon streets of commonplace murder. I don't have it anymore. Instead, I'm left with a sickening appreciation for how efficiently these last 13 months of concentrated upheaval, of hijackers, anthrax and now, a sniper, have driven home a reminder life can be cruel in its randomness. So it is always a good day to hug your children and find something nice to say to your spouse.
I look at the trees differently now. A sight that used to make me peaceful now just makes me sad. Once upon a time, the woods signaled to me that this was a place of remove.
Now I'm thinking there is no such thing.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on JWR contributor Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s column by clicking here.
10/08/02: He toils in the name of change because he can't just stand by
10/01/02: Sharpton, crossing swords with the white corporate dragon, needs to learn what the civil rights movement really was about
09/25/02: A skewed sense of compassion
09/18/02: On death and a pop-culture mindset
09/10/02: Inconvenience me, PLEASE!
09/06/02: Latest CBS joke isn't funny
09/03/02: A rewarding life as a working stiff
08/30/02: We infants in men's clothing
08/27/02: Sept. 11 - How much is too much?
08/23/02: Cut it out already, media!
08/20/02: Brace yourself for attacks of the stealth ads
08/16/02: Russia, please, pretty please let the rocker hitch a ride into space
08/12/02: Racial 'colorblindness' is silly
07/30/02: Oh, to be famous
07/19/02: In Pop-Music Thriller, Jacko Takes on Sony
07/09/02: The password is 'frustration'
06/25/02: My Head And Heart Are At Odds - I Can't Watch Video Of Pearl's Beheading
06/21/02: Your kid's going to pay for cheating --- eventually
06/18/02: Stuffy 'correctness' robs races of give and take
06/07/02: A gift of the Masai
06/04/02: Now what? Use your 9/11 pain to combat complacency
05/24/02: Has your life changed since 9/11?
05/19/02: New world disorder is nothing to smile about
05/14/02: White men can jump, so why do black kids come up short in the classroom?
05/03/02: Catholic Church should be ashamed for blaming abuse victims
04/19/02: A reminder of how small the world has become
04/16/02: 100 death-penalty mistakes and counting
04/12/02: Until all the bad guys wear black hats
04/10/02: Connecting with history with hope for future
04/08/02: Just me and the boys: A black father's road trip
03/26/02: It's time to give up fighting the good fight and join the masses
03/22/02: It's not the art, it's the artist who's troubling
03/19/02: Don't ask, don't tell when it comes to police work
03/15/02: Do we have an inalienable right to TV?
03/12/02: What will we learn about ourselves as war toll grows?
03/08/02: Marriage madness --- oh, please!
03/05/02: A risk free life
03/01/02: Pentagon's idea of lying to media was breathtaking' in its stupidity
02/16/02: Will the Afghans forgive the U.S. for the beating of innocents?
02/15/02: In search of manhood, some make a fatal decision
02/08/02: Time for blacks to give the same respect they demand
02/05/02: A question of character and "unlawful combatants"
01/31/02: There's only so much a parent can influence a child
01/29/02: Mike Tyson is incapable of embarrassment
01/25/02: Acts of patriotism or acts of desecration?
01/18/02: Waiting for tears in the rain at Ground Zero
01/15/02: A little cultural respect works both ways
01/11/02: Can blacks be racist?
01/07/02: What price for the priceless?
12/21/01: An intriguing study on race
12/18/01: To err is me
12/14/01: Admit it, folks, If you've ever been 16, you can probably relate to Walker
12/11/01: Blacks-on-blacks poll is a healthy project
12/07/01: The best defense against government excesses
12/05/01: Better hoist caution flag
12/03/01: Martin Luther Ka-CHING!
11/27/01: Beauty reflects an ugly truth
11/22/01: Another reason to be thankful
11/19/01: If only they knew our names
11/12/01: Watching a 'dying' man live
08/01/01: Should a man be put in jail for what he's thinking?
07/27/01: It's your responsibility to invade their privacy
07/20/01: Is optimism for fools?
07/17/01: Everybody should have a white man
© 2002, The Miami Herald