"Everything's temporary in this world; ain't it a shame when you lose someone. Here tomorrow; gone today."
- Ian Hunter,
"Wash Us Away"
Richard Mixon was always the class clown.
Not the annoying, obnoxious, look-at-me type - though he sometimes was - but more of the bored, smartest-kid-in-the-room type.
I once told his mother how much I admired Richard because he was so funny and clever. She offered that he could be quite a challenge.
The challenge for his family and friends now is to figure out how to come to terms with his death, at age 14, from an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The same kid who once mischievously pushed a girl into the pool at my daughter's birthday party, and then got his immediate and hilarious comeuppance when another girl shoved him in fully clothed, reportedly was playing with a pistol late Saturday when he shot himself in the head.
Predictably, reactions have run two parallel courses. One is the shock and disbelief that comes with the unfathomable loss of such a bright, young life.
My own 14-year-old, and many of their friends, went to her first day of high school not with anxious curiosity, but with sadness and dejection. Their friend, the class cutup who should be sharing the challenge of tackling the freshman year, is permanently absent.
I've known this kid since he and my youngest were in kindergarten together. I've read to him, talked to him, joked with him - you couldn't help joking with Richard - and just can't wrap my head around the void where he used to be.
The other reaction has been profound frustration that a teenage boy, in this era of presumed enlightenment, could kill himself while playing with a loaded pistol.
And make no mistake. If there is one point that every gun education program hammers home, it is this: There is no such thing as an unloaded gun.
Richard, sadly, found that out Saturday. So did the three boys with him that night. They will now spend the rest of their lives mourning their friend and remembering the sudden, violent end of his life.
Everyone looks for lessons from senseless tragedies. When a shocking number of young people died earlier this year in vehicle crashes, the lesson was to wear seat belts. Last week we were reminding mothers not to leave their children in hot cars after a baby died in Hephzibah.
Now, after Richard's death, the lesson is for kids not to play with guns.
But what these lessons have in common is that there isn't a single person who doesn't know them. Everyone already knows they should wear a seat belt, though many still don't. Everyone already knows you shouldn't leave a child in the sun in a hot car - but some still do.
And everyone knows you shouldn't play with guns. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control, the United States has the highest rate of accidental firearms deaths in the developed world.
Two-thirds of accidental shootings occur in the home, the CDC says, and a third of the victims are under age 15 - like Richard.
We don't need the CDC to tell us that playing with a gun is a bad idea. We already knew it. I'm sure Richard knew it, too.
o after we've exhausted the obvious lessons we're supposed to get from tragedy, what we're left with are the tougher, harder-to-define lessons: Appreciate what you have. Value your family and friends. Say nice things to people even when they don't deserve it. Reach out. Speak out.
Because when all else fails, all we can do is mourn and remember.
"How was we to know it would get out of control, and wash us away?"
- Ian Hunter
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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