Kent: May 3, 2013

Chad W. Lutz
43 Years ago something happened here that disrupted the foreseeable flow of time. Events born of war and civil unrest spurred the sleeping dragons of infamy and forever blotted tomorrow’s date with images we’ll never forget and a message that’s sure to last. May 4, 1970, almost seems too far removed to think it ever even happened, but it did. As I sit on a park bench on one of the overlooks sitting above the Cuyahoga River at the downtown river park, which sits less than a couple miles from where four young adults were gunned down by Ohio National Guardsmen in the early morning hours of that tragic day, Life appears to have abated the stinging sentiments still often found lingering around this date every calendar year. For the moment, the world is as it should be; everything is calm, everything is good.

In thinking about it, I feel like this might actually be the first time I’ve ever mounted pen(cil) to write about May 4. I’m in Kent, so perhaps it seems only natural for my mind to wander on the subject, the fact that I’m but a mere few hours from the actual anniversary of the historic date may also act as a cosmic precursor; temporal lube for the mind. Or maybe the “Peace”-inspired notebook I’m writing in, the American flags mounted proudly and flapping in the gentle breeze along the causeway bridge that leads into town; maybe it’s the way the wind itself is blowing just right and wafting smells from the pub and taco shop sitting just on the other side of the river that has me tangled up in thoughts of old in blue in gold? Regardless of rhyme or reason, those thoughts are there.

Today holds the kind of sky that looks superimposed on a giant screen hanging overhead. Waspy white clouds stretch hap hazardously and without care in erratic and non-conformist patterns across a bright blue backdrop. Occasionally, a Cessna flies overhead in passing. I have yet to see a bird in the sky. Perhaps they’re just enjoying the warm air and bright sun as I am. If I were a bird I… Never mind. That thought is too strange. I can barely handle being Chad, let alone airborne.

Suddenly a siren interrupts the tranquil surroundings and pulls me back on the subject of the May 4 shootings. At almost precisely the same moment, a train barrels into town, whistle bellowing out a friendly warning as it rolls across the tracks, brakes grinding, boxcars aching and groaning. The events of May 4 brought the American consciousness to a grinding halt. Things like students getting shot at or lying dead, face down, in gymnasium parking lots didn’t make sense, before then or now, but on May 4, 1970, that was a reality that came screeching and bellowing and groaning down the tracks into Kent and then ultimately carried off on the journalistic breeze to the far reaches of the world. That was the reality millions awoke to May 5, 1970: Four Dead in Ohio. Four youth who bought their tickets far too soon and for all the wrong reasons, a country of conservatives that wanted them dead, a spirit that was never meant to die.

All these years later, you can still hear the bell ringing in the courtyard adjacent Taylor Hall. I used to sit up on the hill and look down and out over where thousands of young protestors gathered in opposition of the Vietnam War and hold my breath. I thought, perhaps, the soldiers long gone but ever present might hear my sighs of disbelief and indifference and come for me from beyond the place where memories stir on that hallowed ground. I would try to imagine their advance on the protestors; pushing them back and up over the hill into the gym annex parking lot. Then I used to try to imagine the firefight, the call out to open fire, the screams, the madness and ensuing pandemonium. Every time I sat up on that hill to gather my thoughts or catch a moment in the sun during my undergrad studies it felt like I was personally being shot at, like those bullets were intended for me. I’d imagine I probably would have been out there that day, perhaps like I was at this year’s Boston Marathon, doing as Chad does, being a part of the action. It’s interesting to entertain the idea of dying doing something you love, whether it be running a race or protesting for civil rights, or maybe even something as simple as believing (in anything). It’s a mad world we live in, perhaps too mad, but a world devoid of passion and evolution as a people otherwise.

No Sympathy for the Mortal Soul
John Paul Filo/1970 Valley News-Dispatch