Leaving the home of a long-time family friend the morning after, someone with whom I’ve shared many concert moments, we both were basking in the afterglow of watching the 12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief.
I thought there was something wrong with the television set. My friend and I have seen four or five Springsteen concerts together, but neither of us could ever imagine the day when Jon Bon Jovi would take the stage with the Boss.
It was apropos, of course, because Sandy, a hurricane that was working her way north out in the Atlantic Ocean, made a sharp left-hand turn and hit New Jersey hard--harder than it had ever been hit before.
My oldest daughter, a longtime Bon Jovi fan, lives in Highlands, pretty much at the northern tip of the Jersey Shore. She lost her car to the salt water surge, as well as the first floor of her condo, and was forced to live in some hot-sheets motel for a few weeks. But she was one of the lucky ones.
Now here it is nearly a month later, and there he was, Jon Bon Jovi--who I’ve teased Jen about, calling him “Bruce Light”-- joining Springsteen on stage for his most famous anthem before doing a great set with Richie Sambora and the rest of his crew.
Just after the highway got jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive, I called Jen to say what a great job her man did, not only hitting notes that reached the old blue seats but simply for having the cajones to join a legend and trade licks on an iconic piece of music.
All the performers were terrific, from Pink Floyd to Bon Jovi to Alicia Keys; Kanye West to the Rolling Stones to The Who, notably Roger Daltry, and, of course, Sir Paul McCartney.
Interspersed among these amazing acts that, according to the latest estimates, helped raise $60 million, were compelling videos of the devastation, people who lost everything, including lives of loved ones, who were dealing with cruel fate at the hand of Mother Nature.
But the night also belong to the first responders, not just people in uniform whose job is to protect and serve but the volunteers, ordinary citizens who just had to do something. That’s one of the great things about America: When tragedy strikes, people you don’t even know become your best friend.
But then came Friday morning when a deranged young man armed with an automatic weapon and the magazines of mayhem he needed, killed 26 people, including his mother and 20 children so young that babies might be the more descriptive term.
You try to understand: Why does it seem like horrific tragedies occur more in the greatest country on earth than in all the Third World countries combined, societies purported not to value human life the way we do?
Why are background checks performed on only 40 percent of the country’s legal gun owners; that same percentage reflecting the number of illegal gun owners who bought their weapon from a non-licensed dealer?
And why are 43 percent of legal guns turned on friends, family and acquaintances, not evil intruders? Tell me why it is that 68 percent of the evil doers get their weapons from family or friends? That fact was underscored in Newtown; the weapons registered to the killer’s mother, and victim.
Like everyone, I’m trying to wrap my head around this but it can’t be done. I lived through 911, but that was an act of war. What happened to the national psyche today was the Kennedy assassination all over again. Too many people will remember where they were when they heard the news today. Oh boy.
For the victim’s families, those who died and those whose babies who ran past their mortally wounded friends with their eyes closed and holding hands, it is unforgettable. Today a town was put on the national map in the worst possible way, just like towns in Oregon and Wisconsin and Illinois and West Virginia had been. Friday’s events had to summon their grief all over again.
Of course, it’s a complex issue, a second amendment right. It’s folly to think that strict gun controls will put an end to violence. The problem is systemic.
But closing some of the loopholes can help reduce the carnage. No one should be allowed to buy a weapon out of someone’s trunk at a gun show in Virginia. More stringent background checks that include psychological profiles must be part of the process.
“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” said an emotional President Obama. “We need to take meaningful action regardless of the politics…Our hearts are broken today… [Surviving] children’s innocence were torn away from them… In the words of scripture; ‘heal the broken hearted and bind up their wounds’.”
Within a span of 40 hours, the best and worst of the American experience played itself out, but the scars made by the unspeakable killing of 20 babies run deep and will linger forever.
What better place is there than a kindergarten class in a country schoolhouse to provide safe haven? Instead, we learn again that killing fields are not limited by geography, or reason. Today, passion, normally fueled by a love for Thoroughbred racing, is a non-starter.