We challenge the culture of violence when we ourselves act in the certainty that violence is no longer acceptable, that it’s tired and outdated no matter how many cling to it in the stubborn belief that it still works and that it’s still valid. ~Gerard Vanderhaar
This afternoon, when I came home from a lovely outing with my 24 year old daughter, our arms loaded with groceries, conversation still warm on our lips, we were greeted at the door by MILlie – my poor misguided, mal-focused mother-in-law – with news of today’s mass shooting. I had heard nothing of it. I had been on a hike with my daughter, enjoying as always any time we get together outdoors. I had picked up some gluten free cookies for my 20 year old son, while we were out. We had chatted about their 22 year old sister, and what things must be like where she is in Alaska right now. We had not listened to the radio, but to each other, and the day had been sweet with comfortable togetherness.
But now MILlie was telling me about a mass shooting at a school, and that 27 people had died, and I became angry. Did that happen here? I asked her. No, she said. It happened in Connecticut. That’s awful, I told her, but there’s nothing I can do about it; watching endless news reports of it (as I rightly assumed she’d been doing) wouldn’t make it better. She tried again to tell me more, but I wouldn’t listen.
As I put the groceries away, I thought about how to explain what repulsed me about these media stories. Hearing the urgent tones on the news in the background, I wondered why we do this to ourselves, all of it, from the madness of the one, to the voyeurism of the many.
You know why I don’t like hearing these things? I asked MILlie. Because it’s disrespectful to the families and their terrible losses. It makes a sideshow out of unimaginable personal tragedy, reduces it to sound bites between commercials for holiday shopping and Viagra. It both diminishes the horror through numbing repetition – a horror that rightly should be gut wrenching and unendurable – and inadvertently glorifies it, setting a new standard of watchable violence for the next unbalanced gun man to attempt to exceed.
She looked at me blankly, and then said, No, they’re just sharing new information, and she turned back to the TV, detached even as she was concerned, watching in conflicted cluelessness, probably like thousands of others glued to their TVs in the delusion of gaining knowledge, and perhaps some semblance of control, in this unfathomable story.
After dinner, I wanted to sit down to write holiday cards – they’re already late. But I knew I had to learn what had actually happened, to get the facts of the matter, so I read the news online, alone where I could parse it out carefully – and my heart broke.
It was an elementary school.
Twenty children between the ages of five and ten were murdered.
The children were killed by a 20 year old gunman, barely out of childhood himself.
On a day when I was out with my daughter, buying cookies for my son, thinking of my other daughter far from home, twenty children died for absolutely nothing but the whim of an emotionally damaged man-child, who also took his own life.
Twenty children who won’t see Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or a New Year. Twenty children whose families will never experience the holidays the same way ever again; presents never opened, dinners never shared, milestones never reached – families who will never know the joy of spending time with their grown children, a lifetime of history between them as they grow ever older and more familiar.
All of that lost. All those lives, all those stories, all those loves and lifetimes, over some asinine nonsense, some imaginary vendetta carried out on children by a man barely grown out of his own youth and wielding a gun under whatever illusion people wield guns on other people.
We are better than this, says the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in an online letter writing campaign to urge “a real national conversation … bringing together Americans from across the nation and across the political spectrum, to call for real solutions — solutions that recognize the Second Amendment right to bear arms — solutions with the only goal of preventing gun violence.
“…. We are better than this this. We must work to make the voice of the American public heard. We all just want to live in a safer nation.”
Are we better than this?
I would like to believe we are. I really wanted to be getting those Christmas cards out tonight, but instead, I’m looking at our Christmas tree, our holiday time capsule, my daughter calls it, with its almost geologic layers of family history ornamenting its branches. There are souvenirs of family vacations, little ballerina shoes hearkening back to years of dance classes, and glass treble clefs from the piano playing period. There are Starwars ornaments and a Hogwarts owl, physics joke ornaments and homemade paper ones and even one made out of duct tape. Our Christmas tree is a family totem.
As I look at it, lit with white lights and hung round with timeless memories, my heart aches for all those families who may never want to see another Christmas, for whom ever carol is now a dirge. I’m thinking of all those childhoods never realized. And I’m thinking of how we make a mockery out of human tragedy by calling it news when it all it is, is virtual rubbernecking.
In the news story I glanced through, were children’s comments – 8 and 9 year olds “interviewed” for the news piece. I saw them briefly on the evening news as well. What the hell is that? How is that news? Who interviews a child at a mass murder site. Who calls the grandmother of the shooter to get her thoughts – after both her daughter and her grandson are dead, and her grandson is responsible for the deaths of 20 children, something she will never understand?
That’s not news. That’s not reporting. That’s not information. That’s American bread and circuses, a hideous media sham, masquerading as news.
Are we better than this? God, I hope so! I so want to believe we are, that we can have intelligent dialog about important issues without resorting to polarized lambasting; that we can find healthy, rational ways to help the troubled among us, that the media recognizes the role it plays in exacerbating the worst of our social ills with sensationalist “reporting” that substitutes sound for substance, and that we, as Americans, can “challenge the culture of violence” by collectively letting it be known that violence, in any form, is no longer acceptable.
I said I couldn’t do anything. But I can. You can. We all can. We can’t accept this any longer.
For the love of all our children, we must be better than this.