ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Tom West: What are we going to do about it?

In the wake of the murders of three women in eight days in the Duluth area, many Northlanders are thinking again about topics like personal safety, domestic abuse and violence in general.

In the wake of the murders of three women in eight days in the Duluth area, many Northlanders are thinking again about topics like personal safety, domestic abuse and violence in general.
Last Friday, some 300 Northlanders attended a candlelight vigil at the Peace Sculpture on the Lake Walk in memory of the three women slain. I was not among them. I had other priorities.
What, it would be fair to ask, could be more important? In my case, it was my family. As fate would have it, last week was supposed to be a vacation week because our son flew home from Oregon for the first time since moving out there a year and a half ago. Events intervened, so our schedules became somewhat complicated. On Thursday, I went to work while my wife took our son to Hutchinson so he could see our daughter's home for the first time. My wife returned to Duluth a couple of hours after arriving in Hutchinson so that she could attend the memorial service for one of the victims, our co-worker Nicole Wittkop. Our son and daughter then got to spend some quality time together, driving up to Duluth later that evening.
Friday was the first time in several years that just the four of us were together as we were during all those growing-up years. In the wake of all that has occurred, Friday became an exceedingly precious family day. The weather cooperated with perfection, highs in the 70s and only high cirrus clouds in the sky.
As the hosts, my wife and I chose tourist things. We took the kids on the Vista Queen, and we toured the William A. Irvin. Then we stopped at the Portland Malt Shop for a treat.
After a quick nap, we went to a pizza parlor for supper and then returned home and played a game.
Reveling in each other's company, it was a wonderful day from start to finish, the kind to cherish forever.
Saturday, we put our son on the plane back to Oregon. At the airport, I gave him an extra long hug, something we men don't usually do. Two hours later, I gave our daughter an extra long hug too, when she departed for Hutchinson. The events of the last two weeks have imprinted on my brain once again how fragile and fleeting life is. I still don't understand why it takes a sledgehammer to get that idea through my skull. I expect to see our children again, but in such seemingly uncertain times, I'm not taking anything for granted.
I trust that more than 300 of the 200,000 plus souls who inhabit the Twin Ports area agree with the statement made at the candlelight vigil that we are opposed to the events of the past two weeks. Assuming that, the question still remains, what are we going to do about it?
The difficulty in finding a solution lies in the way our society has fragmented. Thanks to the automobile and the television, our sense of community is beyond fraying. We don't develop our attitudes toward life from our immediate neighborhoods. We don't all roll out of bed on Sundays, even with a hangover, to hear a sermon and discuss the nature of our existence with our neighbors. We don't all get together at the same club on Friday and Saturday night for a wedding or anniversary dance, where again we create common attitudes toward life.
Instead, many of us stay home and watch television, mesmerized by the brilliant images even as attitudes that should have no place in this community enter our homes and our minds. If we leave our homes, many of us don't stay in the neighborhood, but visit places where other, less healthy attitudes prevail.
We are still trying to create families, but we do so in isolation without the full benefit of nearby, supportive relatives or communities and congregations with common attitudes. Then, many of us are surprised and threatened when our relationships don't last. Many of us turn to drugs or alcohol to ease our anguish. And some of us end up treating those we profess to love worse than a snake treats a helpless bird.
The question remains: What are we going to do about it? The Twin Ports are full of programs from Mentor Duluth to Men as Peacemakers to government social programs designed to prevent these violent acts. Like-minded individuals can gather and reassure each other that the violence is wrong. More likely than not, however, the next victim and her assailant will not be part of such a group.
So the questions remain: How can we make peaceful attitudes prevail in the community? How can we make spouses give each other the benefit of the doubt or even love each other? How can we create a zero-tolerance stance on violence within every Twin Ports resident's mind.
These are not easy questions. The answers are even more elusive. That's because the solutions lie within the human heart -- others' and our own.
I don't mean to indulge in any pop psychology here, but changing a human heart requires a lot of time and effort. An eternal truth seems to be if a person has somebody who has cared for them through ups and downs, they will be able to show the same kind of care to others. The earlier the care is shown, the more likely the person will respond to it, learning by example. Changing a heart, once bad attitudes set in, is more difficult.
As the violence continues, it can be disheartening for those who are trying to stop it. However, the solution is not in retreat, but in restoring our sense of community, showing a zero tolerance for violence and reaching out to the lonely, the abused and the young in the hope that we can provide the care they need to prevent a repetition of the awful events of the past few weeks.
Tom West is the executive editor of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at tom.west@duluth.com .

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.