My aunt, Dorothy Hellard, taught at Picadome Elementary School for over 30 years. She used to read a short story by E. M. Forster, The Machine Stops, to her sixth graders.
This was during the 1960s and '70s before gifted classes and when there was minimal instruction of other special-needs populations; so students in each class ran the gambit and had one teacher.
The theme of the story is a pretty sophisticated (especially for a 1909 publication) take on man vs. technology. Most humans live underground and spend their time alone communicating through a social media kind of process, with all needs met by The Machine.
Things begin to break down gradually and people get upset at first but then become used to each new level of non-service until eventually all who live underground die.
The story stuck with me and I would think of it as society became more and more dependent on technology. But I would also think about this in the way we accept the slow erosion of other aspects of our daily life.
The bar for what we find shocking seems to get lower and lower, be it obscenity or bullying. We shake our heads and say "Oh, it is so awful" for awhile until the next escalation happens.
I remember when sirens were rarely heard in Lexington, then it became a daily thing, now almost hourly, so that at times we hardly hear them.
Watching the news tonight, I saw a woman sobbing with grief and outrage that her friends, a Danville couple, had been shot and killed, leaving two children orphaned.
Think how immune we seem to have become to the mass shootings in our country and now the near daily shootings in our town.
We used to listen carefully to what neighborhood or street was cited, then if it was where we expected such violence, we could turn to other things.
But don't we all need to scream with frustration and the demand for answers? We have to keep yelling, not get used to it, even as the violence creeps closer.
Is the right to bear arms worth destroying all ideas of safety anywhere? How is that the freedom we are so proud of? Shall we each arm ourselves and go underground so they won't get us?
My aunt had high expectations of her students, no matter what they looked like, no matter their supposed IQ, and they understood the idea of The Machine Stops. Let us raise our own expectations of what can be done.
We can't let a political party, a gun lobby or business interests tell us how to think. We can't let only one part of town march in protest of young people dying and of so many feeling unsafe in our city.
We have to unify now and not wait until it is our child being shot or our children being gassed.
If we continue to be apathetic, self-absorbed and desensitized to violence around us, how long will our city last? How long will our country?