If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, I have to admit it’s been arduous trying to write about politics in the wake of the Sandy Hook event. In fact, I got physically sick from it.
Nothing could rise from within that could shake the horror and spirit flattening that would allow me even to think, let alone write clearly through this storm. And it’s hard to drive effectively through a storm when there’s mud on your windshield. And there has been plenty of mud.
Sandy Hook was but one of many instances in my experience where I have come face to face with, and been deeply affected by, violence directed towards our young people. My best friend’s nephew was gunned down while walking Christmas presents back to the mall on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Within a period of two years, her other nephew’s oldest son was gunned down for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a witness able to identify and incriminate a killer.
The terrible grief of burying a child, your child or any child, is enough to make you scream for hours openly on public streets. This is what I could feel emanating nationwide from Sandy Hook. The breach of children ripped from their families too soon and so violently creates a void, with a deep ripple effect on the collective soul. It’s the same feeling I felt from my best friend’s family when they experienced their losses, but on a much larger scale.
Countless American families just this year alone are trying to come to grips with what has happened to them as they face their losses from gun violence: What can we do? What must our leaders do? Maddeningly enough, given the nature and structure of the government we have, all we can do right now is wait: for the grinding of political wheels to gain momentum. For the cruelty and insanity to stop. For the ability to act sanely for once, and to come up with answers that don’t involve having more weapons on our persons to protect our children. We’re trying to move those last, hard-to-reach vestiges of our civilization out of the 19th century and into the 21st.
When you look at the political picture since election day 2012, you could say that we’re passing through a very large collective social storm, beginning with the heartlessly tone-deaf and cynical response by the National Rifle Association to the Sandy Hook shootings and the vile ads in reaction to the President’s call to re-instate stronger background checks on purchasers of weapons. You have the harassment of the poor neighbor who protected the Sandy Hook School kids lucky enough to escape the gunfire, and the bile spewed by Rush Limbaugh.
It was this open display of our American gun psychosis that makes me feel like we’re wading deep through the thick and toxic sludge of our violent American psyche. Our propensity to glorify and propagate violence continues to rise with more frequency to the surface as pressure comes to bear on having no more of this.
Roughly 72 hours from now, the 44th President of the United States will be inaugurated for a second term in office. He will be inaugurated twice, once on Sunday the 20th in private and the second time in public on the 21st, the national holiday named in honor of civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King. A man killed by a gun. This timing gives all of us pause to reflect on the ideals of peace, non-violent (r)evolution and change for the better. Ideals far from our current American experience.
As I explained once to a friend from abroad, “we may call ourselves a civilization but here we’re not at all civilized.” Since the Sandy Hook murders, and all the senseless violent crimes perpetrated on ourselves since the beginning of the republic, it has dawned on us that the certain truths we’ve held to be self-evident have been obscured, trivialized, cartooned. Proven false. What is our national character now? Is it to be defined by how full we keep our basement storage bunkers with multiple rounds of ammunition?
It’s difficult to watch four years later as our country struggles hard through the work that it’s been needing to do long before we ever elected a black President. The racism, sexism, fear of others and fear of women have raised their heads like a hydra, proudly, in plain sight — and yes, finally. As we struggle through this, trying to break through a national fever detoxing from fear and addiction to violence, I have to remember that even with all the terrible losses, this is ultimately good.
Our body politic — like any person’s body — is in a much-needed healing crisis. It takes time for all the components of a body to do their part, just like it takes a few years for a human’s body to completely regenerate. Time is precious, and we are tasked with using it wisely. It’s hard work to build a civilization, and as we in America are finding out — many lives, countless years, wars and tears later — it’s even harder work to be civilized.