Meaningful action starts with silence
Two weeks before Christmas, a shopping mall, a kindergarten classroom, a hospital and a freeway were all scenes of random shooting sprees where lone armed gunmen killed innocent victims, leaving behind a wake of shock, grief and fear.
As I watched the Sandy Hook school shooting story unfold, I was brought back to a September morning one month after our wedding. As my husband and I dressed for work in our tiny apartment, we watched in stunned silence as the second of the World Trade Center towers fell.
In the days following Sept. 11, I struggled to draw a full breath as I waited, chest tight, for the other shoe to drop.
What was happening? What would happen next? Where could I hide?
As the concept of terrorism made its way back into our national discourse and collective consciousness, we saw a quick response in changes to airport security. Following the arrest of one wannabe shoe bomber, we now take our shoes off and accept long lines at the airport.
I wonder what our collective, personal and political response will be in response to this recent rash of a different kind of terrorism. This kind of terrorism has the potential of robbing us of joy and peace of mind as we are reminded that nothing is sacred and no place offers safe harbor from harm.
I was back to asking myself the same questions: What was happening? What would happen next? Where can I hide?
Like many parents, for days following the tragedy in Sandy Hook, I couldn’t hold my kids tightly enough. However, they didn’t understand my desperate desire to cling to them, and wriggled out of my prolonged hugs to run off and play.
So I revised my strategy and gave in to their oft-refused requests to snuggle all night long. I wanted to hold them forever.
But I found myself waking up cranky with a cricked neck because, as anyone who has spent the night dodging elbows to the eye and feet to the ribcage knows, it might sound sweet, but there’s nothing restful about it.
You know what else isn’t restful? Mentally wandering through all the worse-case scenarios and knowing that there isn’t anything that can be done to stop the dark from falling.
That’s actually good news, because instead of trying to predict and prevent madness, I can focus my energy on creating the kind of world I do want to live in. I can also continue my efforts to instill the types of values I want my boys to embrace, primarily by example.
The truth is, in addition to worrying about what might happen to them, I also worry how to make sure my kids don’t become the perpetrators of such heinous acts.
It is time, way past time, for a respectful, honest conversation about gun control and mental health, and the rights of all over the rights of some. But, myself included, it is nearly impossible to have such a discourse when we aren’t listening for anything other than agreement with our own passionate arguments.
One of the first things I think needs to happen in response to this unleashing of hatred is a national conversation about what’s really at the root of it.
My bet is that it’s not any single thing, but rather some big things we aren’t addressing in a meaningful fashion. Facebook status updates aside, what are we really doing to stop the madness?
Bottom line, I think we must start this conversation differently than we usually do: silently.
From my initial response and comments I’m hearing and seeing, it seems we’re coming from a reactive place of fear instead of a reflective position of understanding.
Mental illness and how we deal with it, or don’t, is something we need to be talking about. Unfortunately, we’re eager to sweep that subject under the rug or, we talk about in low, hushed voices.
Mental illness is an issue we need to put more of an investment into studying, treating and funding. Period.
As for the gun control conversation: could the extreme sides of the issue please stand down already? In what reality will we be able to eradicate all guns? Do we really want only the craftiest of criminals to have them?
And, on the extreme other side of the debate are those advocating for all to be armed. Really? Perhaps I should start packing pistols in the boys’ lunch pails. Middle ground, people. We need to find it.
But we can’t until we start naming the values we agree on. For instance, those who want a gun in every teacher’s waistband and those who want to eradicate them entirely have something critical in common: a desperate desire to protect children.
Before we can tackle these big issues, I think we need to look at how we foster connection and our sense of community. What do we have in common, and how can we build on that?
I submit that at the root of our collective chaos is spiritual bankruptcy. By which I don’t mean we all have to recite the same prayer at the table, but how many of us are even sitting at a table to eat with other people? How many of us say any kind of grateful blessing before meals, or ever? How many people are completely isolated, left to fend for themselves and feeling no connection with others, much less something bigger than ourselves?
To accomplish that, we must stop pretending to have all the answers. We have to stop laying the burden of blame on every obvious target. We must, instead, look within to contribute to changing our culture from one of entitlement to one embracing gratitude and life itself.
Nathalie Hardy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.