Marco Etheridge does an amazing job in “The Tennis Instructor and the Tolling Bell” of talking about devastating but important topics and how different events affect people. It faces the unbelievably tragic reality that is school shootings. Not only does he talk about this topic in a very respectful manner, but he uses his experience to start a conversation and break the taboo against talking about it. He takes time to give some background information about the Parkland shooting in 2018 just in case the reader doesn’t know too much about the events that happened that day. In addition, I respect that he does not make the topic seem cliché, but also does not downplay the event.
The story starts off as a flashback to a trip that Marco Etheridge and his wife are taking on the U-Bahn train, but then it evolves into a story about a meaningful encounter with a vacationing couple. He describes what he was feeling after talking with them. The encounter makes him realize how real this tragedy is. Often things that don’t impact you directly don’t seem as real in your life; it’s conversations with those who were impacted that shift the perspective. The format is set up in an interesting way that adds a great timeline. It starts with him initially introducing what he’s going to talk about and then goes into the story itself in the form of a flashback. After that the last section describes his ideas looking back on it from the present day.
One example of this is “Madness and violence may tear at the silver net that holds us, but the net will only fall away if we allow it.” He doesn’t directly state an emotion, yet with the beautiful imagery given it is possible to understand what he was feeling. For example, he says “The train rattles into the darkness of a tunnel, wheels screeching against the tracks that curve into the Karlsplatz station.” Another example is when he says “The wound bound to that name is still fresh; unhealed and raw.” He uses that to describe how hearing the name “Parkland” makes him feel. Marco does a very good job throughout the piece of showing us what he feels without outright saying phrases like “This made me sad.”
There are a few lines in the piece that particularly stand out as incredibly powerful. It shows how upset the author is at the world for allowing events like this to happen again and again. Marco Etheridge says “Children gunned down at their school, or shoppers murdered in a department store. University students slaughtered on campus, or concert-goers mowed down while the music played. The deadly toll goes on and on and on.” Each part or section is written beautifully, but overall the piece is very powerful and informative. He uses it as a platform to share the message of change. He states, “Yet in the passing of a few short years, the story these people told has not become a distant tragedy.” It shows that you never know what someone else has gone through until you start a conversation.
Gwendolyn Henson-Myers, editor-in-chief and contributing editor in Creative Nonfiction
Read this essay in Issue 5 of Levitate Magazine, available on our website on May 25! And join us for our launch reading on YouTube at 7 pm Central on May 25. Here is the link: https://youtu.be/eRDI1oysefI