A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
If one pays attention to such things we see the matter of opiate-based prescription drug use by teenagers becoming more and more prevalent, the most recent evidence being a front-page story in the October 8 edition of The MJS. Heroin is known as "smack" and its use, once almost the exclusive province of rock stars and the glitterati, has been steadily on the rise amongst young people across our State in areas rural, urban, and suburban.
Last spring I wrote of the tragic overdose of Madison Kiefer - a fifteen year old Whitefish Bay girl. In a development that can only be described as sickening, we learned that the last adult who had contact with Madison, the last one who might have grasped her hand and pulled her up before she slipped into the murky fog of that final, opiated embrace, was her father. Her FATHER for heaven's sake. The man who should have been her greatest source of protection in fact facilitated her behavior. Such was the world Madison Kiefer all too briefly inhabited.
This is serious stuff, folks. We are talking about the safety and well-being of the young boys and girls we see every day on Wisconsin Avenue and Pilgrim Parkway; or driving up Lily and Gebhardt roads. THESE are the young people we are talking about. Maybe some of those kids are YOUR son or YOUR daughter or YOUR grandchild. Two of them are mine.
And since I write of such a serious topic, it is incumbent upon me to be equally serious. I write with several perspectives: that of a public servant, a taxpayer helping fund our so called "war on drugs", a member of a community that likes to think it is insulated from this pandemic, and most personally and importantly, the father of two beloved children who live every minute of their day "out there".
But there is one additional perspective..........
About a hundred years ago I ran with a fast crowd. Doing so was my decision and my responsibility - mine alone. On the surface I was the stereotype of someone who would NOT have done it: middle class, a good athlete and student, the youngest child of a loving and supportive family, blah blah blah.................But run we did - fast and hard. Thankfully most of us stopped short of the kind of stuff that claimed Ms. Kiefer.
As I later came to see, we didn't run because we were "rebelling" or "making a statement". Our behavior was founded upon that most shameful of cornerstones: personal selfishness. We ran because we thought it was FUN, and we spent little time thinking about the collateral damage we might cause in the lives of those who loved us. I think that is a fundamental difference between my time and that of today's youth. Certainly some may be doing it for selfish reasons, but I don't believe that motivation speaks to the aggregate who are on this collective descent. But more on that in Part Two of this piece.
The tragedy of course was that some of those I ran with never turned 'round. They kept running until they were trapped in a darkened maize; lost and utterly alone. And unlike my boyhood hero Theseus, who for the love of his country entered the labryinth to stalk and slay the Minotaur, they carried no ball of string by which they could find their way back to the light. I emerged - perhaps a bit wiser to the ways of the world. And I did so without causing undue harm to anyone else; a reality for which I thank God to this day.
So as I sit at my keyboard, memories that don't exactly tickle poke and prod their way to the surface of my consciousness. I acknowledge that this perspective doesn't grant me any special insights, nor does it make me any more "right" than the next person when talking of this matter. But it whispers in my ear as I type, and if it gives me a more of a "voice" when I speak to young people about such matters, then so be it.
Folks - society is not fighting a "war" on drugs. We use that term because, like drugs themselves, it makes us "feel good". But also like the drugs, such language leads to false contentment. There IS a war out there. But it cannot be won by the DARE Program or by an army of social workers, no matter how well-intentioned or capable. And it most certainly cannot be won by Federal grants funding cipher-like beaurocrats who sit in the Waukesha County Courthouse, plotting data on a chart and issuing vapid communiques from "the front" of this so called war.
Remember the movie A Few Good Men? Jack Nicholson played Marine Corps Colonel Nathan Jessep, the defendant in a Court Marital trial, with Tom Cruise cast in the role of his prosecutor. In the movie's pivotal scene an enraged Jessep lashes out at Cruise, until trapped in the vortex of his own rage, he ultimately betrays himself. But not before heaping upon his tormentor all of the contemptuous scorn that only a commander of combat troops can feel for what is known in the military as an R.E.M.F.
To paraphrase Jessep, it's time to stop using cocktail party punclines like "the war on drugs". It's time for you and for me to "pick up a rifle and stand a post".
Because our young people WANT us on that wall. They NEED us on that wall.