The Gasoline and The Match
Three days after Friday and the news about Newtown, I’m still stunned and heart-wrenched. And, like a lot of people it seems, I’m looking for who to blame. At one point over the weekend I find myself in a feverish fantasy, where I begin by forging a criminal record as a felon, and then attend a gun show, where I purchase a semi-automatic assault rifle without a background check. And then I single-handedly storm my way into the offices of the NRA and display my personal way of saying thank you to them for protecting my Second Amendment rights.
But that fantasy was only to arm myself against actually feeling the hopelessly helpless sense of horror at what happened up there in Connecticut.
It’s been a rough few months here in the Northeast. Between Sandy and Sandy Hook School, we’ve suffered the worst of nature and of human nature.
How do you read about or watch this story without having your heart torn out? But of course there is no escape.
So I can take refuge in my outrage. Or in my personal ideology about such things, something I’ve stood by for decades – that unless all of us are taken care of in this world, none of us are safe. It’s true, but knowing I’m right offers cold comfort at a time like this.
And I’m not the only one who wants to be right. Mike Huckabee said on Fox News in response to the massacre that, since school prayer is banned from public schools, “should we be so surprised that public schools would become a place of carnage?”
He wants to pin the blame on the liberals.
On the other side, The New York Times has subtly played the same blame game, implying on its front page for the past several days that it’s all the conservative’s fault for stymieing gun control all these years.
Question is, do we want to heal or do we want to hate? I can understand the hate – it’s easy: Blame the gun rights lobby for Sandy Hook. In our shock, and to ward off terror or despair, we grasp for meaning. And having something to blame, and mobilizing behind a cause, gives us this meaning and helps us cope, lest we suffer a crisis of faith, be it in our fellow man or in our God.
But let’s take a moment to pull back from our hate-the-haters (it’s contagious, isn’t it?) reactivity, and take another look at Mike Huckabee’s words. If we cleanse them of the blame he was indulging in, and leave the whole separation of church and state debate aside for just a moment, we can ask, had this wretched 20 year old soul been taught more about God or the Ten Commandments from age seven, who’s to say it couldn’t possibly have reached him on some level – or have reached his fellow classmates, who, I bet, tortured him back in the First Grade?
But God or not, and national crisis or not, this ghastly event has brought out the best in some of us, and holds the potential of doing the same for the rest of us. The evidence lies with the teacher who died shielding her kids with her body, or the school principal and school psychologist who were shot to death running towards the killer to stop him, when they could have easily run away to save themselves.
And if you want more evidence, you have only to watch that 19-minute talk that the man we should all be proud to call our President gave on Sunday. At the memorial service for the victims, he seized the moment and took a political risk, and said, in effect, let’s not suffer to have had these innocents die in vain. Let us now say – enough! It’s Obama doing what he has always done best – en-courage us to do better, call us to our higher selves.
But in doing so, let’s not pretend that, where mass violence against young innocents is the problem, the solutions are simple. There’s the gasoline, and there’s the match.
Joe Scarborough the host of “Morning Joe” and a former Republican (!) Congressman from Florida, put it best: The violence we’ve been seeing, he said, “is spawned by the toxic view of a violent popular culture, a growing mental health crisis and the proliferation of combat-style weapons.”
In other words, it’s not enough to only remove the gasoline (all those assault weapons); we must keep the match from getting lit (all those permeable, young minds).
And to do this, we will need together to challenge the precious shibboleths across the political spectrum.
Dear Conservative, this will mean better gun control, and more tax money for early detection and treatment of mental health problems.
Dear Liberal, this will mean – dare we say it? – some well-aimed censorship of increasingly morbid and hideously violent video games and perhaps some rap music as well.
But for the moment, the shock and horror at what we have had to witness this past week feels like almost too much to bear, and it’s going to take time, and much soul searching as a people, along with some real and meaningful action for us to heal ourselves.