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Tragedy on Repeat
A note the Steady Community: We had intended to write about another topic this week, but once again tragic news intervened - a type of news that in some ways isn’t news because it happens with such frequency. But if we let it become commonplace, if we do not stop to renew the outrage that this is occurring, if we throw up our hands as if there is nothing we can do, as too much of this nation has, we will lose ourselves, and more of our children.
Again... and again... and again...
Where... How many?
New backdrops, new datelines, and, most devastatingly, new names.
That the general contours are the same provides the opposite of comfort; it builds a pit in the stomach that gnaws and twists.
Before continuing, let us acknowledge the four victims of the shooting in Michigan. Please read each name. Perhaps out loud. They had meaning. They had life.
Hana St. Juliana, age 14
Madisyn Baldwin, age 17
Tate Myre, age 16
Justin Shilling, age 17
You have probably read so many stories about school shootings, heard from the families, read the passionate speeches from those fighting against the scourge of this seemingly uniquely American phenomenon, that you know much of the usual analyses.
You know that our gun laws are lax, and that keeping them so has become a partisan divide.
You know that we talk far too much about “thoughts and prayers” and very little about concrete action.
You know that children should not have to go to school afraid of being shot, but millions do that every day.
You know that this doesn’t happen in other countries.
You know that this has happened far too many times before... and it will happen again.
I keep hoping, as I am sure many of you do, that this time will be different. That the cumulative hurt that has accrued over the years is building towards some breaking point. That the deaths will be too much. But then I see with this pandemic how comfortable many in this country can be with mass death providing it doesn’t infringe on their very warped notions of freedom.
What about the freedom of all of the rest of us to live without these threats of violence? What about the freedom to send our children to school to learn and not to die?
I try to put the puzzle pieces together for our times, and they don’t seem to fit. We have such outrage around our schools today. Some of it is about the frustrations of the pandemic. And those are entirely justified. But a lot of the anger centers on what is being taught in the classroom, or what isn’t. It is of course possible to scour this broad nation and find examples of overreach. But there is something far more insidious at play.
We have a national movement to deny an honest reckoning with our history and its many complicated chapters. It is a history of violence and oppression as well as soaring ideals and progress. And here I keep coming to this disconnect. It is somehow a threat to young minds to teach them about the violence and terror felt by Black Americans over the centuries, but it is not a threat to have them face a possibility that they themselves will be shot in a classroom, or hallway running for help?
In the wake of this latest shooting, I am also trying to contextualize this week’s Supreme Court arguments in the abortion case. We are likely to see a fundamental right upon which many women depend stripped away. I think of how this will mean that the government will insert itself, with a heavy and unyielding judgement, in the discussions between women and their doctors, and women and their own conscience. Somehow that’s okay. But the government cannot intervene between almost anyone and their guns?
I think of what it means to be pro life, or what it should mean.
I think of the hypocrisy of how little we do to protect children once they are born.
I think of how school should be a place where the lessons can spur discomfort but the environment is safe.
As the days unfold, this latest shooting case will come into greater focus. We will learn more about the parents of the shooter, and what seems now like the calls for help from a sick child.
Then, barring anything new or earth-shattering, something else will supplant the story from the top of the headlines. It already is happening. And Oxford High School will drift into the background even though it will never be the same, even though families will have empty seats at the dinner table this holiday season, and all to follow.
Part of what I try to provide here at Steady is a sense of the broader perspective. That perhaps we can find some hope in the tapestry of our history. I grant you that the repetitiveness of these shootings makes that difficult, perhaps impossible.
I do believe, with all my being, that the vast majority of Americans do not want this madness to continue. It is a minority inflicting this insanity on the majority. And I hope that the calculus of such a situation cannot hold indefinitely. I try to remind myself that I have seen progress on seemingly intractable problems can come in ways and at moments that we least expect.
What is required is to not give up, to keep pushing, to not let these stories become just another part of the noise. We need to demand that our politicians pay attention. We need to find new ways to bring this issue to the fore.
I am sorry if these meager calls to action aren’t very helpful, or do not provide much solace. But I also know there are many, many people who are dedicating their lives to trying to eke out whatever progress they can. Sadly each shooting adds more to their ranks. We owe it to them, we owe it to our children, we owe it to the idea that we can solve problems, and we owe it to a more nuanced notion of freedom, that we do not give in to hopelessness and despair, even as we grieve. Again.