Rat-tat-tat, rat-atat-tat goes the automatic rifle. And the world descends into madness.
What if I were lying on the street of my beloved hometown with my blood pooling about me? And my last shuddered, shocked and unbearably painful thoughts were set gazing at the blue-cloud-puffed sky ordained by Thee?
As silence and darkness closed upon my last beautiful morning of the strangest celebration and my earthly eyes close forever and the world starts mourning as I shall be released?
Rising, rising, rising to the eternal heights a cry from the earth spills forth:
“Who dares violate and trample upon the bright golden hazes of my departed but never-forgotten childhood? What force of horrible, perverted evil strangles the peace of my green garden whose soil, now mingled with darkened blackened blood, cries for civilized justice? May the songs of symphonic sweetness still flavor the tracks of my tears? Can my dust praise Thee?”
The North Shore of Chicago remains in my mind to date as a haven, an utterly tranquil and beautiful oasis. The skies, the stars, the water, the spacious yards of landscaped grass and shrubs, the finely designed homes were among the most precious places and space of my life in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. My childhood home gave me a gracious and beautiful outlook which I bravely brought into a dangerous, spasmodic and problematic world.
Many of you know me following 30-40 years of happy life, work, school, family and service in Aroostook County. What few know about me is that my formative childhood years were spent next to Highland Park, Illinois, where the recent tragic shooting turned our benign Chicagoland affluence and privilege into a battle zone of madness this July 4th.
I want — no, I feel compelled — to say a few personal words about both the shooting as well as my life on the North Shore of Chicago in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. I say it as a necessary testimony and, if you permit me, a Jewish kaddish and Christian prayer for the lives lost, the lives torn, and the minds messed up by this upheaval, unique in our lifetimes on those lovely streets.
I want you to know this story because it is a debt of love I owe to my home, a place intentionally secluded and filled with so many amenities brought into the lives of the ultra-wealthy and not so wealthy and mostly very successful in its focus on the family. It remains a place of astronomical pride in its achievements yet it also gives rise to utter fragility and vulnerability to the mental anguish and terror which only great wealth and high walls can bring. Those high walls intentionally brought insulation from the messy realities of those outside the hanging gardens, those who lacked the privileges and yet continue to do most of the living and dying in America.
While our sorrows on the North Shore were often intense and private, leading to chronic therapies, hospitalizations and expensive prescriptions, we never considered alternatives and thus stayed entrapped within its material pleasures and costly self-indulgences. We carried on.
But on July 4th, suddenly and without warning, the North Shore became as bloodied and terrorized as any village in Swat, Pakistan, Sandy Hook, Columbine or the other name places which rock and revolt our sense of stability, civilized exchange, and human decency and respect. Innocent lives in celebration for America’s best were sacrificed on the altar of madness and sickness evidently accommodated by a family which remain locked in the fear of making the right decision. I offer no judgments here, only the need to testify to a place which once was and yet will never remain the same in the minds and hearts of its residents and residences.
We live in a time of unprecedented confusion and chaotic rage seeking its mad expression throughout our nation. As I age, my call surfaces and will affirm a certain idealism in both educational valor and needful participation in the life struggle. Each day remains a privilege to seek our personal best for ourselves and all we love. Let us pray.
Larry Berz of Caribou, Astronomy Educator of America, is planetarium director at the Francis Malcolm Science Center and instructor of astronomy at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics.