‘I think there’s something wrong with me,” Pastor Walter Mitty said to his friend and neighbor, Michael Rosenthal, as they walked to Zaphne’s Retro coffee shop last Thursday.
“Yeah. It’s about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday.”
He paused, trying to find the right words.
“What’s bothering me, Michael, is that when I heard about it, I didn’t react emotionally. See, I found out about the shooting when my sister-in-law called from Manitowoc. She was crying and between her sobs she told me what had happened. She didn’t think something like that could happen in Manitowoc, but now …”
“And you didn’t feel anything?”
“I kind of got into my pastor mode. You know I’m the calm, stable adult in the room while everyone else is falling apart emotionally.”
The conversation went on hold as the two men walked into Retro and greeted Zaphne with big smiles.
“It’s good to see you two after so many months,” she exclaimed, hugging both of them.
Being hugged by an attractive young woman made Mitty temporarily forget what was on his mind.
“Good to see you, too,” Michael responded. “How have you been?”
“Well, the business survived COVID,” she replied, adding, “just barely, but what’s really got me down is the war in Ukraine and the shooting in Buffalo last week and the one in Texas. I mean, all those little children!”
Zaphne turned away from them to hide the tears in her eyes while Mitty stared at the floor. Knowing what his friend was feeling, Michael put his hand on his neighbor’s shoulder.
After handing cappuccinos to her only two customers, Zaphne retreated behind the counter and focused on her cellphone screen.
After savoring that first sip of his coffee, Pastor Walt said, “You know, Michael, a lot of the talk on the news has been about mental illness.”
“You mean like background checks and red flag laws?”
“Yeah, but it just occurred to me that you have to be mentally ill to buy an assault rifle.”
“Well, because assault rifles are designed to kill people. Not deer, not turkeys. Assault rifles are made to kill people. Who in their right mind would want to kill people?”
Michael sipped the foam from his coffee and said, “Well, I bumped into Sgt. Grossman at the park yesterday and we got talking about guns. I guess it’s on everyone’s mind. And he said that the police have target practice every month, and the picture on the target isn’t a deer.”
Pastor Mitty opened his mouth as if he was about to say something, thought better of it, then replied, “Yeah, I think I see your point. I’m all for sending weapons a lot more lethal than assault rifles to Ukraine.”
Michael nodded and added, “Aren’t we saying that civilians should not be allowed to have assault rifles? Not ever?”
Mitty drained his coffee and said, “You know, Michael, I was talking to Sarge at the Military and Police store the other day, and he supports the NRA because citizens, he argues, have the right to defend themselves.”
Michael raised his eyebrows, held up two fingers for Zaphne to bring two more coffees and asked, “Defend themselves against whom?”
The second cappuccinos tasted as good as the first. Both friends rolled their eyes. “The government, I guess,” Mitty replied
“What world is Sarge living in?” Michael asked and pointed at the Retro’s owner. “You see Zaphne, Walt? She looks like she, too, is in a different world. She and her phone. We’re the only ones here right now and she could be hanging out with us.”
Later that day, after making a sandwich with Natural Ovens whole wheat bread, CherMake summer sausage, and sharp cheddar cheese, Pastor Walt sat down and turned on the evening news.
“In the wake of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas,” the host began, “our reporters did some research on gun violence and somewhat to our surprise we learned that mass shootings accounted for less than two percent of gun deaths last year, that the majority of gun deaths in 2021 were suicides, and that most of the rest happened on our streets or in our homes.”
Then the news switched to Ukraine and the report that maybe 10,000 Russian and 3,000 Ukrainian troops had been killed. “By assault rifles,” thought Mitty grimly.
Afterward, he thought of Zaphne who seemed so alone.
“Maybe,” thought Pastor Walt, “I’m not insensitive, but just numb. Just overloaded by all of the pain.”
And he followed that thought up with another: “Thanks, Lord, for Michael and two cups of cappuccino.”