Written Across My Heart: For Sandy Hook Promise | Kevin McClave’s Fundraiser

I launched a fundraiser on my daughter’s 9th birthday. It will run through December 14, 2015.

Miley was 6-years-old and in 1st grade on December 14, 2012. As we sat a safe distance away from the unfolding events in Newtown, I felt a sad affinity for those parents who weren’t as lucky as we were. As lucky as we are. Make no mistake, luck is all that separates us from them.

I’ve written about this in previous entries. It’s something I know I will carry with me for the rest of my days.

Generally speaking, this Crowdrise fundraiser supports Sandy Hook Promise. No matter how much is raised, that goal will be reached.

I wanted to try and really stretch, though.

If we reach the $5,000 goal I have set for this fundraiser, I will get a tattoo, specially designed (TBD), that incorporates the Sandy Hook School logo, a heart, and the number “26.” This tattoo will be inked over my heart. Forever.

I am 51- years-old. I have no tattoos, nor do I want any otherwise. I do, however, carry with me the events of December 14th, 2012. I remind myself daily how lucky we are. The tattoo will simply be a visible symbol of that.

I will pay for (or perhaps have time & talent donated for) the tattoo. None of the proceeds from this fundraiser will be used for that.

If we hit $20,000 for Sandy Hook Promise, I will also have the 26 names of those lost at Sandy Hook tattooed down my arms. 13 on each arm. Forever.

These are very aggressive goals, but Sandy Hook Promise is doing very important work.

Sandy Hook Promise is a national non-profit organization founded and led by several family members whose loved ones were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

Based in Newtown, Connecticut, its intent is to honor all victims of gun violence by turning tragedy into transformation.

SHP uses a multi-faceted slate of programs and practices, centered around issues of mental health, anti-isolationism, gun safety, advocacy, and policy, in an attempt to protect children and prevent the senseless, tragic loss of life.

I will say again, and I can’t say enough, that the only thing that separates those of us with our loves still with us, from those who have suffered unspeakable loss, is pure dumb luck. I am lucky. I hope you are lucky, too. I believe with that luck comes a responsibility.

Thank you for your help.


Win Anyway

I’m putting myself out there on this one.

This home demo from 18 years ago (of a song written 20 years ago) is about as rough as they come. As I like to say, as a musician I made a good lyricist. This is the only demo of this song I have, so…

I wrote the song with a particular view of beating the odds, bucking the system, climbing the mountain. Mainly, it expresses my world view that some things are worth fighting for, or against, regardless of the chances of winning. It also expresses my personal view that nobody but me tells me what I’m capable or incapable of doing.

In more modern times, this song has been hanging around in the back of my mind as one particularly suited for the gun control movement. A protest song in that grand tradition. We shall overcome.

But I haven’t really done much about that idea.

So, today I am.

For any of you who write songs, I offer this up as a co-writing opportunity long after the fact. Please feel free to have at it. Use the melody, the lyrics. Use a line. A word. The title. It is my hope that you can hear through the performance to something resonant. It has always felt unfinished to me, so finish it if you will.

Or, let it stay as it is. I fully realize some songwriting attempts are dead ends, and deserve to stay in the dustbin.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try.

Somebody’s Coming Home

Heart in HandDecember 14, 2012 was the longest day of my life. This isn’t a new revelation for me or for anyone who knows me, but it is one I wanted to revisit today. Especially today.

In the year before that pre-Christmas Friday 2 years ago, I had started to really dig the music of Nathan Bell. I had stumbled across a glowing review of his then-new acoustic album Black Crow Blue, but it was Crow’s self-released predecessors In Tune, On Time, Not Dead and Traitorland that grabbed me first.

Nathan’s work earns the sort of obsessive behavior I put in listening to those 3 albums. His songs are well crafted and True. I love his guitar playing, as well. His art fits very well in my hierarchy of things.

I loved (and still love) a good number of the songs I downloaded from Amazon. I listened to a lot of them a lot of the time. One of my favorites was “Somebody’s Coming Home” from Traitorland. It spoke to me immediately as a father. Listen to the song and that’s an obvious response.

As I sat a safe distance away from Newtown on 12/14, watching, listening, reading with sorrow as the bad news became worse and the worse news became unthinkable, “Somebody’s Coming Home” was forever transformed from one of my favorite songs to my song of thanksgiving.

The wait for that “big yellow school bus” to come around the bend with our own 6-year-old first grader on board was difficult to say the least. I promised myself two things: I would never forget, and I would be mindfully thankful. Thank you to Nathan for writing a song that helps me do both:

 Happy Thanksgiving. May everyone you love come home.

Champions Overcome

One of the myriad ways in which I am a lucky man is based, at least originally, on proximity. I am fortunate enough to live in Central New York, where I have the pleasure of reading the writings of the great Sean Kirst.

Sean has been writing for our local morning newspaper for a couple of decades now. For much of that time he has been for me the window through which a lot of our problems and issues take on a human face. It may be easy to dismiss data and theory, it is much more difficult to dismiss people. Especially as Sean introduces them to us. He has been our local treasure. Now, of course, you can read his work from wherever you are at syracuse.com.

It was while reading this morning’s column that I found myself repeating a strongly held belief.

Champions overcome.

Of course, “champions” terminology is lifted directly from athletic endeavors, where there is very often a winner and a loser. Sports can be nuanced, but not nearly as frustratingly so as living a life. Back when I was a radio broadcaster, more than being a big sports fan, it is this reason that made me prefer doing sportscasts to news. In sports, the worst thing that happens most of the time is that somebody loses a game.

Sports champions are made by excelling over the long haul, but they rarely go without defeat. In the National Football League, for example, there has been a single championship team that has not lost a single game in a season. That was 42 years ago.

In that way, sports are very much like life. Some of us will have an easier time. Some of us will struggle. All of us will lose, and to ultimately succeed, all of us most overcome.

We overcome our past. We overcome our present. We overcome disabilities and weaknesses. We overcome enemies and friends. We overcome ourselves.

What defines champions, in sports and in life, is never giving up. We can rest. We can reflect. We can reassess. We must keep going.

We must overcome.

My Most Important Job

I have known since I was very young that the most important thing I would ever do, should I be so blessed to have the opportunity, was to be a good father.

Fatherhood, parenthood, is sometimes about hard choices. It’s about consistency and a 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week vigilance. It is the constant push and pull of knowing when to pull close and when to let go. In grand strokes, it’s about striving to make the world better for our kids, while helping them to grow to be a constructive presence in that better world.

Reading an op ed from Sandy Hook dads Mark Barden and David Wheeler this morning, I was reminded again of something David had said in the unthinkable days following the events of December 14, 2012. As a father, they are words that rang deep and true for me. They are words I have tried to push down when they come up, at least to some degree, so as not to be swallowed whole by them.

In talking about the loss of his 6-year-old son Ben, and good intentioned people telling him and wife Francine that they “can’t imagine” the pain the parents were enduring, David said that he wants us all to be able to imagine it. That only in imagining it will we create the will for truly transformational change.

That is the thing that dares not speak its name.

The truth is, I haven’t been very successful at avoiding my own imagination. I am most often aware of how lucky we are, how lucky I am, and of the general fragility of life. Other times, out of nowhere, I am stricken cold by a flash of what could happen.

Yet, we must imagine.

It wasn’t until members of Congress could look in to the already-gone eyes of a dying Robert Kennedy that they broke a deadlock and acted to pass the Gun Control Act of 1968.

I’m sure you have seen the statistic. As I write this, there have been 74 school shootings since December 14, 2012. One thing that the Sandy Hook shootings accomplished was to create a more active and mobilized gun control movement. Organizations like Sandy Hook Promise, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Mom’s Demand Action are acting as centralized points of activism and unified protest.

Even more than the cohesive effort, however, this ongoing battle requires courage.

We have unfortunately seen too often courage from victims’ families in the sheer will of facing another day, and trying to create something good from something so horrible. We must all be courageous. We must, as RFK put it, risk the “disapproval of our fellows.” Most importantly, we must be courageous enough to imagine the unimaginable.

We must change.

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. May our children live in a safer and more just world.

Remember

Remember today.

Remember that we should be grateful to, honor, thank, and take care of our veterans every day.

Remember that we set aside November 11th as a specific holiday to honor all our veterans, but that today is for those who never came back. For their sacrifices of life, and more sadly, what might have been.

Remember that putting yourself in harm’s way in service to your country does not allow you to pick and choose where you go, what you do, who you fight, or for what reason(s).

Remember how lucky you are.

Remember the fallen.

Silence and Respect

Trying

Laying a rose at RFK's grave, 1994I realized something this morning.

I was reflecting on my first visit to Robert F. Kennedy’s gravesite (posted in a Throwback Thursday pic I uploaded to Instagram earlier). It’s hardly the first time I have reflected on such things, but today I had a realization of something that has been true for a long time, but that I guess I just found the right words to describe.

Whatever empathy I have within me was formed long before I made that deep and meaningful connection to Robert Kennedy’s legacy as a young adult. I can trace my character traits, good and bad, back to certain people in my past (and present). All the good I may possess within me is thanks to someone else. It is those folks who instilled those things in me, who planted those seeds. It was then up to me to keep the seeds alive.

My empathy, though, was learned the hard way. The bullies of my youth, who mercilessly taunted and mocked me for something I could not change, taught me well what it means to be treated as less-than, with scorn and with ridicule. More to the point, they taught me how that feels.

I remember it in some way every single day. I just try to turn it upside down. I couldn’t bear to know I’d made someone feel even a fraction of that feeling, and I go out of my way to try to make sure that I don’t.

So, whatever empathy I may possess has been there a very long time, but it was RFK who put the fire beneath that empathy. Who’s memory keeps it at a slow boil. Bobby Kennedy, or more accurately the legacy he left behind, taught me not just to care, but what doing something about it looks like. In the same way my grandfather taught me what a gentle man looks like, or my mom taught me a work ethic, Bobby showed me how to speak up, and that we must. We can’t change anything if we don’t first say something. All around us there are people who need us to do that.

Talking will only get us so far, but I’ll let the man himself take it from here:

Of course, if we must act effectively we must deal with the world as it is. We must get things done. But if there was one thing that President Kennedy stood for that touched the most profound feeling of young people around the world, it was the belief that idealism, high aspirations, and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs — that there is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities, no separation between the deepest desires of heart and of mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems. It is not realistic or hardheaded to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values, although we all know some who claim that it is so. In my judgment, it is thoughtless folly. For it ignores the realities of human faith and of passion and of belief — forces ultimately more powerful than all of the calculations of our economists or of our generals. Of course to adhere to standards, to idealism, to vision in the face of immediate dangers takes great courage and takes self-confidence. But we also know that only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly.

My first visit to Arlington Cemetery was almost 20 years ago. I have been back to Bobby’s gravesite several times since. Each time I have a little chat with him, almost always consisting of only a couple of words.

“I’m trying.”