The national press covering the Chardon tragedy keeps referring to the town as “a quiet suburb of Cleveland”. But for most of us here, the two places are barely related. Chardon is a town square, a maple syrup festival, deer hunters in funny orange vests, the place that gets all the snow. Cleveland is gritty neighborhoods, museums and music, foreclosed homes, the one place in Ohio that always goes Democratic. Those of us who live in the city or, like me, in an inner ring suburb, think of Chardon as an innocent, if not clueless, place. My guess is that many Chardon people view Cleveland as a place to visit for a ball game or a trip to the science museum, a Little Italy pizza or a bowl of Vietnamese pho, and then a happy drive back to their natural beauty and quiet.
Not that those differences matter, not this week. An eleven-year-old girl at last night’s vigil for the victims said, “It means caring together.” Holding onto her candle, she said, “It means we have one heartbeat.”
In his photos, T.J. Lane looks almost too slight and fragile to have the strength to heft a gun, much less point and shoot. He’s 17, but how easy to imagine him at 7. His 81 year old grandfather was beside him in court. He and his wife took on raising T.J. and his brother when they were small, trying to give them the stability their parents couldn’t, a story that’s pretty common here in Cleveland, too. Their backyard has a rope swing and a swimming pool. He and his brother used to build forts and tunnels in all that snow.
Lots of questions, mostly unanswerable, will fly around now. Of course we want to lay blame somewhere—it’s how we feel safe, how we assure ourselves it could never happen in our family, to our friends. It’s clear that T.J., whose brother turned to heroin, and whose father has a mile long police record, witnessed things most of our children are shielded from. But I have friends whose once-happy children have wandered down heart-breaking, if not violent, paths. The pain of not being able to fix a broken child is terrible, and it’s life-long. There’s also shame, and anger, and humility before a dark we can’t beat back.
I’m hoping that it’s true, that our hearts can beat together, for the victims, the shooter, all the friends and family.