The old man had another story to share with us so we gathered in a circle around the campfire while he took his place on the best of the logs. The children all sat on the ground while we sat on family logs. The stories around the fire were an honored tradition, started by our elders centuries ago, passed down from one generation to the next. It was how we learned from our elders, how we gained the benefits of their knowledge, and their experiences. We all eagerly waited for the old man to start.
Many years ago, there was a man, his name was Timothy, and he was very proud of his family. They meant the world to him. He worked hard each day to provide everything he could for them. He kept his family well fed. He kept them clean. He provided for them, a house, a yard, clothing, even books, and a bed. His family always had candles to light up their home at night.
Timothy was a good man, all his family knew, and all his village too.
One day, three strangers came to town, riding on their horses, armed with guns, and knives. They took what they wanted, did what they wanted. They got to Timothy’s home, broke down the door of his home, and they shot him. Thinking he was dead, they raped his wife and his daughter. Timothy saw it all, heard it all. He heard their screams of pain, heard their cries for help, heard the tearing of their clothes. He heard the single gunshot fired, and saw the lifeless body of his son as it struck the floor.
All he could do was watch, lying on the floor, his own blood pooling around him. He tried to move, to speak, to scream, to do anything at all. He found he could not. He’d been shot, and he knew he would die.
It was on that floor Timothy made an oath to the gods. He swore, if he lived, if they spared his life, he’d learn to protect his family, his daughter, and he beloved wife.
When the three strangers had their fill of his daughter and his wife, they left Timothy’s house, moving elsewhere in the village. He heard the sounds of their guns, the screams they caused, the wails of anguish, and of tears, at another soul lost. He could only close his eyes, and beg the gods above to grant him time, to grant him life, to learn to protect his family, his daughter, and his wife.
With the coming of the dawn, those first rays of light, others in the village found him, his daughter, and his wife. They took him straight away to the medicine man, praying as they carried him along for the gods to spare his life.
It took time, more than a few weeks, even more than months, before Timothy grew well enough to walk. The medicine man used his magic, his potions and his spells, and his prays to the gods above, to save Timothy’s life. All the villagers helped him bury his dead son, repair the damage to his home, and take care of his daughter, and his wife.
But Timothy had changed, he was not the same as he’d once been. After that violent night, he bought several guns of his own, keeping them around his house, so they would be there if he ever need them to help him protect his home. To protect his family, his daughter and his wife.
He learned to use them all. The rifle first, then the shotgun. Last of all he learned to use the pistol he’d purchased. He even learned to carry it with him, every day of his life.
In time, his daughter found a man to call her own, and she became his wife. Timothy built a house for them, right across the village square. And every Sunday, his daughter and his son-in-law visited, spending time with him, and his wife.
Young married people being as they are, it wasn’t long at all before Timothy became a grandfather, and his wife a proud grandma. They love their twin grandsons with all their hearts, and took care of them all the time as they watched them growing up.
Those two boys loved their Ma and Pa with all their hearts. They did everything their parents asked of them. They helped with the chores around the house, and out in the fields they helped their Daddy with his work. By the time they were just six years old, both of them could ride a horse, and both could man a plow, and till a field. They went out in the fields almost ever day, working with their Pa.
Timothy was proud of his grandsons. They were going to grow up to be good men. Everything he’d someday hoped his own son could have been.
It was one day not long after when tragedy entered once again into the lives of Timothy, his family, his wife, daughter, son, and grandsons. Tragedy has a way of doing that, of just walking in like rain, on a sunny day. For just like rain, it happens, for no reason, just like rain, tragedy falls where it may.
And on that day, his two grandsons were over at his home, being seven-year old boys, playing seven-year old games. Cowboys and Indians, as it was. When Timothy’s wife asked him, please, to run to the village store and get a bag of flower, two eggs, and two cups of sugar, so she could bake a cake for the two young boys. And off Timothy went, through the village, to the store.
But Timothy made one mistake that day. He forgot the pistol he’d worn almost every day, since that day so long ago, when three strangers came to town and shot his son, and raped his daughter, and his wife. As he got to the front door of the village store, he realized what he’d done, and straight away, he turned back toward his house.
When a single gunshot rang out, shattering the peace and quiet of the village, bringing everyone outside.
Timothy raced to his house, as fast as he could run, for he knew, he knew, where that gunshot had come from. He slammed open his front door, only to see his wife, kneeling on the ground, cradling the head of one of her grandsons, looking up to heaving as she wailed, and streams of tears fell from her eyes.
Timothy’s other grandson was still alive. A smoking pistol resting at his feet. He’d been the Cowboy in the game, his brother the Indian. And like any Cowboy would have done, he saw that gun, and he picked it up, and drew a bead on the Indian.
He didn’t know a single thing about real guns. He didn’t know at all that never point a gun at anyone, that you never pull the trigger if you do. And that’s just what he’d done. And on that day, Timothy lost a grandson.
I’d like to tell you it’s because Timothy had the gun in the first place. But I can’t do that at all, because we all know by now Timothy bought his guns to keep his family safe. A lesson he’d learned on the day those three strangers came to town, and destroyed his family’s life.
I’d like to tell you it’s because of boys being boys, and playing violent games, the way boys have always done. But I can’t, and I won’t. I played that same Cowboys and Indians game when I was just a boy myself, so very long ago.
The simple truth is, a gun’s a gun. And like any tool made by human hands, they have no purpose on their own. But humans made them for self-defense, and in the hands of a brave, good man, they give him a powerful tool to help defend his family, his daughter, and his wife. But in careless hands, uneducated hands, mean, hateful, or angry hands, guns can become a powerful tool of another kind. A tool that makes it much easier for such careless, ruthless hands, to take the life of another living being.
That’s the real reason I have tonight for sharing this story with you.
And with those words, the old man bowed his head, and pushed his hands against the log as he slowly gained his feet. He bowed his head to all of us, and smiled a sad, broken smile, before he shuffled off, on his way to his lonely home, and we all said good night.