03-Christmas-Still-Life---CandlesBy Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reorter 7/2015

Last week, for the first time in many years, I wrote a full column for this space, and then proceeded to, as they say in the newspaper business, “kill it.” – The reason? It was so dark, and so sad, that it was – uncharacteristically for me – completely bereft of hope.

The impetus for the column came when I was asked to add the announcement of the candlelight vigil — for the four Marines and one sailor who were murdered — to be held the following Sunday on Foxboro Common — to several Facebook pages.

While I was posting, news came across the wire that there had been another shooting – this time in the Lafayette movie theater. Two more dead, at this writing, nine badly hurt. In addition to these two incidents, I read about yet another school shooting, and less than a month ago, slaughter inside a southern church.

The irony of posting an announcement about a candlelight memorial to remember those gunned down senselessly at the same moment that news was breaking about a different incident of people gunned down senselessly struck me profoundly. This one cut deep.

So I began to write. And I rewrote. And I repeated words I had written after Sandy Hook – that after the murder of innocent schoolchildren – five and six years old – something would have to change.

This column went on, and on, lamenting that not a lot has changed, and the shootings see more frequent – to the point where we are becoming somewhat numb to them – like it’s something that just happens, and we move on.

Now, there is a time and place for column of this tone – but like I said, the piece I wrote was utterly bereft of any hope whatsoever – something of a first for me. And after an hour, I tore it up – I was determined not to contribute to the darkness – instead, I’d look for some hope.

See, part of our national sadness is the feeling that we are powerless. But there IS power in a candlelight vigil. You might not be able to change national gun policy, you may not be able to create new programs or fund existing programs to help the mentally ill back to a safer path. But as so many have said – you CAN light one single candle rather than curse the darkness.

This past Sunday, many people lit candles on Foxboro common and nationwide to remember those lost. It will not be the last time we will do this. But as a priest I respect recently said, we are people of hope. We are people of faith. And if all we can do sometimes as light a candle and gather together and hope, that can be enough for the moment.

When a writer puts together a piece such as this, it will often go through many drafts – the writer seeks a narrative flow: beginning, middle, end. In this case, right here and now, it might appear that I am shifting topics dramatically – but I am not. The shootings I have just mentioned – and the national feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness – are very relevant to where I’m going next.

We all want to be safe. We especially want our children to be safe and live long, healthy lives.

I don’t know of any way to stop the random shootings, and I don’t know any way to address national policy for helping the mentally ill. So I’m going to do the next best thing – I would like to invite you to a place where you can not only join others in hope, but by gathering information and talking to people, help to effect change – and to bring hope. If you come to the event I’m about to talk about, you can take a proactive role in helping to change something that you DO have the power to change.

National Night Out 2015 banner from their official web site.
National Night Out 2015 banner from their official web site.

Come to National Night Out On Foxboro Common Tuesday August 4, 2015. Or attend the one in your town. There probably will be one wherever you happen to be reading this – it’s America’s 32nd night out against crime and drugs and this endeavor is huge –a crime and drug prevention event, which is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch and cosponsored locally by the Foxboro Police and the Foxboro Jaycees – and involves over 16,000 communities from all 50 states, US territories, Canadian cities, and military bases around the world.

Over 38 million people nationwide are expected to participate.

Verbatim from the website, National Night Out is designed to:

  • Heighten crime and drug prevention awareness
  • Generate support for, and participation in, local anticrime efforts
  • Strengthen neighborhood spirit and police – community partnerships
  • Send a message to criminals letting them know neighborhoods are organized and fighting back

Three short hours – 6 PM to 9 PM – come to Foxboro common – or your local community location –and spend an evening outside with neighbors and police.

Here in Foxboro, the Foxboro Jaycees work closely with the Foxboro Police department to put together an evening that is not only fun for the kids, but provides much needed information for parents.

On a personal note – this is absolutely true – up until one year ago, I had no idea there was a heroin problem here in Foxboro. But on last year’s National Night Out, I had the opportunity to speak with a special forces police officer and one of our selectmen who gave me quite an education on how very serious and widespread the problem is.

And since then, we have read about countless teens across the country dying from overdoses, or laying in a coma in the hospital, their future destroyed.

THAT you can do something about.

Yes, National Night Out is great for the kids – the Foxboro event will include face painting, a petting zoo, a bounce house. Pat Patriot. And even a glow safety parade. Musical band “I’m No Hero” will be playing throughout the event on the Foxboro common bandstand.

But FAR more importantly there will be information tables for parents and adults: at this writing that includes:

  • Norfolk DA.
  • K-9 Marley, our drug detecting dog
  • Foxboro Police and Fire and Safety officials
  • Foxboro human services.
  • HUGS (Help Us Get Safe Domestic violence prevention program).
  • TAM (The addicts Mom).
  • Foxboro citizens Corp.
  • Foxboro child sexual abuse awareness committee.
  • Learning to cope. Matt Ganem / Banyan Treatment Center.
  • Partner’s healthcare.
  • Drug and sharpies take back.
  • And that’s just for starters.

There will be a wealth of information available for parents and caretakers to take a proactive role in attacking crime, and especially drugs and drug abuse among our young people.

Information equals hope. Information gives you the ability to act. As I said earlier, few of us have the power to do ANYTHING about senseless shootings, but we CAN take some proactive action to eradicate teen drug addiction, domestic abuse, and local crime.

I’m very fond of a book called, “Be More Chill,” by Ned Vizzini, which I have read several times. The details of the novel are not important here – but at one point in the story, two students get caught in a house fire due to their own carelessness. One dies, the other is in critical condition. At school the following Monday, the math teacher asks if any of the students would like to say anything; none of them do – they are all too numb. So the teacher says something like, “well, things like this happen because of ignorance, and the only way I know to combat ignorance is to teach.” The teacher then instructs the students to open their books.

I like those words – because many bad things do happen because of ignorance, and the way to combat that is with information. At National Night Out, you can get a lot of information to combat ignorance –You can be proactive. Even the smallest way, you can make a difference, help to affect change.

To bring this full circle, the original column I wrote – if published – would only help fuel the hopelessness and add to the darkness we all feel with these recent senseless murders. I can’t do anything about the shootings except pray, I don’t have the power alone to change gun laws or better understand mental illness.

But I for one will not be consumed by hopelessness – I will light a candle, or 10 candles – and participate in events like National Night Out to help, and in even the smallest way, combat the problems that maybe, just maybe, we all CAN do something about. We all CAN help tackle smaller, more manageable threats.

No matter how dark it gets, we – the human race – are people of hope. People of faith. I’m not speaking about religion here – I’m talking about hope and faith in ourselves and our own futures – that somehow, working together – we will figure it out.

So please come to National Night Out – get INFORMATION. Make a difference.

That information can grow hope so bright that even the darkness cannot take it over.

End of speech.

See you there?

I can only hope.



Saturday September 26, 2015

At the Foxboro Public Safety Building
8 Chestnut Street
Foxborough, MA 02035

UPDATE: The event was set up and ready to go on August 4 when a VERY severe thunderstorm, completely with heavy rain, lighting, and the thread of tornadoes hit the area, so Foxboro National Night Out was shut down for safety reasons, but rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Public Safety Building.

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