Woog’s World: ‘Those things don’t happen here,’ but they do
It’s not every day that a woman gets stabbed in a random Westport parking lot attack. In fact, I don’t think that’s ever happened here in the entire history of our town.
But it did happen last week. Suddenly, Westporters realized that we are not immune to any of the senseless violence that occurs everywhere else in the country.
This was as random and senseless as it gets. It’s not clear what possessed an 18-year-old honor roll student and lacrosse player from Guilford — nearly an hour from Westport — to come here, lie in wait in a spa parking lot, open the car door and begin stabbing a 33-year-old Greenwich resident. Many people suspected drugs or a psychotic episode. The young man’s own attorney said he was “strongly concerned” for his client.
Those things don’t happen here. But they do.
People don’t bring guns to school in Westport and shoot their classmates and teachers. But they do in schools all over the country, from Colorado and Florida to — so frighteningly close — Newtown.
People don’t use hard drugs in Westport. At least, we think they don’t. But they do. From time to time, police make arrests for heroin or cocaine. Sometimes the users or sellers are out-of-towners, passing through or visiting. Sometimes they are our neighbors, people down the street, or the sons or daughters of friends.
The opioid crisis has, thankfully, not struck Westport, we say. Except it has. Many of us know at least one person addicted to painkillers. Sometimes they get the kind of extended, expensive treatment available to very few Americans (unless they live in places like Westport). Sometimes they continue their habit, invisible to all but close friends and family members, because opioid addiction is not on our affluent suburban radar. Except it should be.
The same with teen drinking. Because we have not had a major incident in a while, it’s easy to think it has vanished. Except it hasn’t. Alcohol is still the substance of choice for high school students. It’s as much a part of teen life as texting and driving.
The good news is, teenagers today don’t drink and drive. Decades of educational efforts have paid off in areas like “designated drivers.” The rise of Uber slashed drunken driving even more. But — as they have since, probably, Prohibition — Westport teenagers will find ways to drink. Just like teens everywhere.
Vaping is all over the news. People think “my kid doesn’t,” except he or she does. It’s easy to hide, and kids in Westport hide their devices, pods and cartridges as easily as they get them. It’s just like the beer and weed their parents and grandparents used. Except it’s a lot easier to get away with.
The immigration debate plays out in places far from Westport too, we think. We are surrounded by men and women from other countries, of course. But they look like us and work alongside us in financial services firms, marketing companies and consulting businesses. We don’t have “those illegal people” here, we think. Except we do.
They blow the leaves from our lawns, plow snow from our driveways. They cook the food in our restaurants. Some even live under our roofs, tending our children and cleaning our homes. We don’t ask. They don’t tell. But there is precious little separating people all around us from their countries of birth. And just as little separating the lives they make easy for us, and the chores we may otherwise have to do for ourselves.
It’s even easy to think that climate change is something that happens to the rest of the globe. Wildfires in California and Australia may sear our consciences, but they don’t burn our houses. Polar ice caps may melt, but they’re poles apart from us. Droughts may affect farms, but we’re not farmers.
Except we are all citizens of the Earth. We all eat food. We all breathe. None of us can escape rising temperatures and sea levels. Just ask anyone who lives on Saugatuck Island. Climate change is starkly evident there, and it will be in the rest of Westport soon, too.
So what does all this mean? Random violence, alcohol, drugs, vaping, immmigration, climate change — the real world is really right here, too. It’s on the doorsteps of our large, beautifully designed, well maintained suburban homes.
Should we despair? No. That’s foolish, and it does solves nothing at all.
Of course, we can’t embrace those things, either.
All we can do is realize that Westport is truly part of the world. We don’t live in a bubble, nor can we.
We are all passengers on this planet, rocketing together through space. We must all fasten our safety belts. The ride will get even rockier, but we are all in it together.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.