Five years ago tomorrow. A draft written the day after, thrown away, written again. Part of me finally understood what Theodor Adorno meant that to write after such an atrocity is 'barbaric,' and the other part mourned - primarily for the children and the teachers who shielded kids with their bodies. Then the mourning shifted to the knowledge that groups of people would never have enough common ground to understand each other -- because when you accept children as 'collateral damage' in an ideological fight you have crossed a threshold past understanding.
Yet it was not about the evils of a weapon where the primary purpose was to kill. I'd had many conversations about responsible use, understanding the power we held and the danger of letting it into the wrong hands, while cleaning weapons. And it wasn't as simple as a mental health issue. It's also a rage issue. And a history of violence issue. And most of all an issue where we no longer see the person on the other side of our argument.
'Watching the Newtown Coverage While Cleaning a Weapon
Silence has blasted through the small screen
and his careless quarry lies testament:
a plate lies face down in the basin;
a towel sags lifeless on a cold stove;
empty jeans have rolled from the sofa, legs gone limp.
Only the bodies on the muted screen move
and time moves, forward, backward.
Armored police park cars into a fortress and run,
scattered, toward a building whose white walls
burn themselves into foreign homes,
and a helicopter delivers
armchair detectives and surrogate shrinks
their gods-eye view.
The sky, two thousand miles away, constricts;
somewhere, maybe my neighbor’s house,
a man loads shells by hand, and speaks
to a blue black barrel pointing skyward
against the wall. “I told you so,” he says
as if every face in every crowd
watched and waited. For what if the sun
prying through closed drapes threatened
to kill what grew in a dark, moist place
to take what is secured by four walls,
what he grips with cold fingers.
Some days it is what I have, to step past the door,
to say anything
that adds sound to a neighborhood gone mute,
to walk unarmed past windows, because
a constant vigil fed by fear
is not freedom.
These days even the air refuses to move.
Grass blades slice and the clouds form a dome
overhead. A truck passes, Stars and Bars
filling the rear window; a face looks with contempt.
With effort, I realize none of that is true.
Three doors down a child, playing alone,
retrieves his ball from a neighbor’s yard.
He has not learned to be afraid of boundaries,
does not wonder what eyes lurk behind each window,
and his breath comes natural.
Somewhere, a man prays for an unseen hand
to strike down what he fears.
Another man prays for the words, to walk next door,
and say “hello” to strangers.
I realize I am one of them
and I do not know which
but I am outside, wondering
if God has the volume turned up,
if he is tired of watching funerals,
if he is tired of both shooter and victim
screaming in his ear.
Or, maybe with the world on mute
he sees only a solitary hand curl, which
looks clasped in prayer, which
looks like a fist shaking toward heaven, which
looks like a lover’s hand holding another, which
looks like a mother’s holding the smaller hand of a child, which
looks like a hand wrapping around a pistol grip
as if nothing else matters.'
(c) 2017 from Contested Terrain
If we are to believe the media generated images, the commercials, the public values community and sacrifice. Problem is the same public rewards the voice speaking above all others. Be assertive, people say.
No. Not a new development.
In Army leadership schools we found ourselves evaluated on command voice, command presence, assertiveness. And these things have a great importance in a dangerous situation where hesitation can compound the threat and moving quickly can save lives. It’s less of a value when a soldier knocks on the office door and needs to talk about divorce, bankruptcy, violence or an inappropriate touch. Then, taking the time to listen, identify the problem and focus efforts on the solution (or on discipline for the offender) matters. But still, we value assertive, strong position rather than the right one that may require reflection.
If a hammer works for one job, it should work on all jobs, right?
And in our political landscape the illusion of strength matters more than a thought out position. A pause for needed reflection becomes equated with dithering. So some learn this and speak louder, over other voices.
Again. Not a new development.
A friend in the aftermath of an election used the term narcissism. A self-centered value scale that carries with it a lack of empathy for others outside one’s circle.
Bumper sticker ideologies appeal. Reflection doesn’t. Small steps forward in our society are met with manufactured angst over ‘our way of life’ as if even the thought of not hurting someone else was somehow a threat.
And yet in our public value of assertiveness we don’t notice it enough to call it what it is. A narcissistic disorder that can be manipulated through accusations of weakness.
I’m reminded of a prophet’s flight away from immediate danger. Elijah fled his ruthless king, finding a place in Mt. Horeb to await the next course of action. In the midst of his retreat he encountered an earthquake, a windstorm and a fire. We are told the voice he was looking for – God’s – was not in any of these strong assertive presences. It was in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19) he would have been sure to miss if he were looking for messages in catastrophe.
A few thousand years later we are still valuing the earthquake scale voices – something that puts barriers between us. We are still trying to out bluster them, while ignoring the still quiet voices concerned with matters greater than their own self-importance.