Friday, December 17, 2010

Panama City, Florida School Board

Many years ago, while rehearsing for a role in a college production of a Woody Allen play entitled Don’t Drink the Water, another member of the cast picked up the stage pistol, pointed it at me, and pulled the trigger. The sound was real enough to frighten me. I screamed at him: “Don’t do that! Don’t do that ever again!”

Not known for unscripted dramatics, my outburst stunned everyone present into silence. I looked from face to face and began to cry. The mock gun and the childish act shook the ground beneath my feet. I did not know how to act or overcome the intense fear.

I remembered this moment while watching the video footage of the Panama City, Florida school board staring into the barrel of a gun. Those men and women remained calm. They displayed courage.

One woman and school board member, Ginger Littleton, was among those ordered to leave the room by Clay Duke, the interloper who died that day in Florida. Somehow Duke’s rage or powerlessness or despair would not permit him to harm spectators and women. His targets were the Superintendent, a man, and male members of the school board.

Still Ginger Littleton could not save herself without attempting to save those other Board members. She returned and tried to knock the gun from Duke’s hand. She did not succeed, but who would not praise her for her valiant effort? She tried to save her friends. She tried to protect them from harm.

The Superintendent Bill Husfelt tried to draw the gunman to him and him alone. He asked that Duke spare everyone else on the dais. He asked Duke to hold him responsible for any employee terminations. Who could not admire a man who tries to save his colleagues? Who would deny Husfelt’s courage?

Jerry Register, a Board member, offered to help Duke’s wife find another job. In doing so, he drew the gunman’s attention to himself and away from others. He attempted to provide some hope for the desperate, disturbed man. Who would fault the man for acting so charitably?

When Duke begins to fire, Mike Jones, the security guard and former policeman, rushes into the room to protect and defend. That is his training. That is his job. Still, it requires courage to enter a room where a gunman has the advantage. Who does not admire Mike Jones?

These are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. These are ordinary people of courage.