(Written yesterday while OS was down for whatever reason)
I am supposed to be at a Christmas party right now. My fire department, which is dying a slow but natural death as a volunteer-dominated organization, holds these events annually. I planned to be there. I cannot be there. I cannot celebrate right now. There has been a death in the family. Actually several. Twenty seven so far, today. In the family of man.
We all know what happened in Connecticut today, the most recent all-American massacre of innocents which has become so routine that like the evening's body count during the endless Vietnam War, we are becoming inured to these deaths. Well, not all of us.
One of the first things that crossed my mind when I heard the news around noon today, Eastern time, was that someone very dear to me was teaching at a school somewhere - far from today's shooting - and that when she heard the news, when there was a break, she would hear it and she would be distraught, she would look around her at the children on this bittersweet last day before holiday break, and she would feel much the same things I was feeling: outrage, anger, but mostly a pain deep in her soul. We've talked about this issue often, and are both extremely passionate about the fact that it has to stop. My soul hurt then. It still does. And eventually she did get word, and registered her profound sadness and outrage. We two, we are not alone.
When I first heard the news I typed a status update on Facebook condemning the shooting and the factors that made it possible, and a spirited, sometimes bitter, discussion erupted. This was healthy, even when a friend who is Canadian, a brilliant poet and well-versed in the lexicon of metaphorical violence, told us we all needed to be quiet, took issue with our angst over the gun problem, told us our society (here in the States) was being "infantilized," and his comments were greeted with something less than warmth, it was all healthy. It was something that had to be said, all of it. It is still going on.
One of the most recent comments in that thread was by another friend who is very liberal generally, but who grew up in the gun culture. Her comment was taking exception to another which had suggested that when people obtain guns they intend to shoot them. "I own many guns & pray I will never have to shoot them."
The strangeness of this comment was lost on a lot of people, I think. "Many" guns, all of which the owner "prays I will never have to shoot"?
There are currently estimated to be close to 300 million guns in the hands of civilians in the United States (according to Jeffrey Goldberg in an article in December's edition of The Atlantic). If that number is anywhere near correct, that's one weapon for every man, woman and child in the country. Goldberg's modest proposal is that it would be impossible to disarm that many people, so perhaps allowing more sane, stable, well-trained people to own guns would, per the standard NRA argument, result in fewer gun deaths, because of course these people would often take out the insane shooter before "too many" people were killed.
I do not believe in learned helplessness. I do not believe in pacifism. I do not believe in murder. I do not believe guns are a very effective way to defend one's home or person. I do not believe we are obligated to bow to the Sacred Phallic Symbol that is a gun.
How in God's name did we ever manage to arm, statistically, every man, woman and child in this country?
But back to the story of the day. Matricide is now the word we are hearing, and hearing it dissected intensely, since the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School went there with the (successful) intent of killing his mother. With guns she owned. She owned "many" guns, and apparently had prayed she would never need to shoot them. And when she needed them she did not have a one of them at her disposal. If she had, if our public school teachers were, in fact, allowed to be armed (nothing insane in that), she might have...killed her son and saved her students? There's a scene from a Tarantino script no one would have bought. But then we now appear to live inside a Quentin Tarantino film that no one would be willing to produce.
Where do we start? When something is overwhelming there is a tendency to give up. We've done it before, after analyzing to death (no pun) the factors involved. From Columbine (now in second place in the US Mass Murder Hall of Fame), to VA Tech, to the DC Sniper, to all the random drive-by shootings and, perhaps worst of all, those countless accidental shootings by children of their parents, siblings, selves or friends by guns left unsecured; or those heat-of-the-moment shootings, those acts of passion that would not have happened had not a loaded gun been so handy at the crucial time.
Police armed like they were just deployed to Iraq, because that's what life is supposed to look like in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave So Long as You Have Your Piece on You.
Blood. The blood of innocents. Children again today, the easiest targets, and a mother who was also a teacher, murdered on sacred ground, inside a public school, the cradle of our democracy. Children loved by parents, friends, relatives, children including a 20 year-old man who was the child of his mother, and undoubtedly loved by her at some point. Maybe even today. Love. It is nothing less than the murder of love, even if in some cases the only person who loved the victim was him or her self. Life itself is love given form.
So we have an "impossible" situation where there are some 300 million firearms out there in the hands of mostly law abiding citizens - except for those who are not, except for those who are insane or "troubled," except for those who will snap in a moment of passion or anger and grab one of those guns and fire it at someone, perhaps a loved one, perhaps himself, or perhaps accidentally discharge it and kill someone, because despite NRA propaganda accidents DO happen, and who are we to deny anyone his or her precious Second Amendment rights, crafted at a time when the most sophisticated weapon available was a flintlock, and that during a revolution in which nearly everyone was a participant.
How do we fix this aberration? How do we rein in the holders of those three hundred million weapons? Is it really impossible to do something to make access to those items less easy?
"Obama is coming for your guns." Yeah, right. He's knocked himself out to stunt the availability of handguns and semi-automatic weapons by doing what? So far, nothing. You may disabuse yourself of that delusion. And perhaps for good reason. What could the president hope to accomplish with the backwash residue of the Tea Party still controlling the House and still talking about revolution?
I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do know this: It is personal when this happens. We are all connected. Everyone is somebody's daughter or son. I love my children and grandchildren. I love people. I love life. I do not love untimely, violent, unexpected and unjustified death. I do whatever I can to help find a solution to this problem, and I know it will not come over night, but it will remain personal, it will remain real, real as a gun, until we begin to rethink who we are and what we are supposed to be.
Meanwhile we will continue to live in country that falls into nightmare conditions periodically, that leads the world in gun-related deaths (and trails in most other, more positive areas), and no one can assume he or she is safe. Teachers and students are always fair game, it seems.
The teacher I mentioned in the beginning of this tirade is a treasure to her students and their parents and to her co-workers. I have watched her work, watched children engaged and learning important skills, and was transported back to a time when I was that age (the age of the children who were murdered today, 5-10 years old), when I was being impressed by some of my teachers and engaged by them and with them. That learning is what made me able to enjoy life to the extent that I do today. That took place on sacred ground, and I loved and continue to love learning, I love my children and by extension all children, I love people generally, and today, once again, love lies bleeding, hearts lie broken, families are shattered, and we, the world's richest and most powerful nation, are culpable because we cannot, will not, bring our most base instincts under control, cannot or will not even discuss how we might correct this abasement of human life, how we might reduce the number of gun deaths - which, need I remind you, can only be caused by guns - because, you see, it is impossible. The problem is too big. And so instead we will look deeply into the sickness of today's shooter, his relationship with his mother, all the distractions we need to get past the problem that made this atrocity possible: easy access to guns we pray we'll never have to shoot.
Impossible? I don't care. Whatever the solution may be, start here, now!
Meanwhile, love lies bleeding. Shoot out the lights.