It has not been a quiet week here in Whitefish Bay. In fact, it has been pretty awful. Not for me, personally, but for all of us, generally, because of the devastating death of a 15-year-old girl from a drug overdose. Words and words have been written about that, and I won’t add to them. You can follow the link to the local paper and get the whole story. What I want to talk about is an uglier aspect of people’s reactions to a tragedy like this. Call it presumption, stone throwing, judging, whatever you like.
Because most of my readers are not local, I need to give you some context. Whitefish Bay is the prototypical wealthy, highly-educated, white bread, apple pie, all-the-kids-are-above-average suburb. We have sidewalks on which the kids walk to school – the community is too small to justify buses. We have parades and ice cream socials and band concerts in the park. We can walk to the grocery store or Starbucks and will always run into someone we know. The church parking lots are full on Sundays, and the PTOs are flush with cash and volunteers.
Get the picture? It’s a nice place to live. It’s a happy place, where the police officers wave and the librarian knows your kid’s name. When tragedy befalls a family not unlike most families in the community, it’s news. Everyone feels it. Everyone is somehow touched by it – either through personal connections or life parallels. And for the most part, people pull together and support the grieving, doing the best they can to bring comfort in a time that seems so hopeless.
But then there’s the seamy underbelly. The people who, in whispers, start to speculate. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but…” And, “do you suppose…” You know what I’m talking about. People looking for the salacious, the malicious, and the downright unfair.
I say to those folks, “There but for the grace of God go ALL OF US.” Who are we to speculate about what goes on in a family? Why do we try to place blame in a situation that is sad and sorry enough? Does anyone think for a minute that these parents didn’t want for their child exactly what we all want for ours? Can any of us say how we would handle it if our teenager was drawn to risky behaviors? It’s so easy to say “MY kid would never.” But that’s crap. No one is immune. No one. The current situation here in Whitefish Bay should underscore that.
I ask people – and unfortunately, the people who really need to see this have no idea I’m writing it – to think before they talk. And think again. And then, if they have nothing constructive to say, to keep their mouths firmly shut.
I’ll be back with knitting later. This just had to be said.