I know that Star Wars is not true. There may be a force that connects us all but it is not the force that the heroes access in Star Wars. But when that sinister Death Star destroyed an entire innocent planet it seemed a great metaphor for the terrible destruction we inflict on each other and we wish there was a rebellion we could join without violating our beliefs in a nation’s right to autonomy. It is not our fight, but it is our grief. We repeat the emotional impact of the words a great disturbance in the force because it sometimes expresses exactly how we feel.
I came home from a day of shopping, getting an oil change, and
visiting my mom and turned on my TV with a sense of familiar dread because my
car radio had alluded to an active shooter in San Bernardino, California. In
fact I listen to news lately with a growing sense of anticipated dread because
disaster has become so common that it seems that routine news days are rare. I
am not a Donald Trump fan, nor do I intend to vote for Donald Trump, but at
least if I see his smarmy face plastered all over my TV screen then I know that
today was a good day in the news, a normal day in the news.
So I watched as they evacuated wounded people from a Social
Services office building and listened to the count of those who died and
thought to myself, “who wakes up in the morning and thinks, ‘I guess I’ll go
shoot myself some social workers who help disabled people today’? The answer
was pretty quick in coming but it will never make any sense to me. A young
couple went out to kill today, newly married, with a baby who they have to
leave with a parent while they go kill people. Have we all gone insane? How
could this man, an environmental engineer and his wife, this new mom, become
radicalized, if that is what happened? They’re not hopeless loners with no
future. I just don’t understand. Why would any promise of glory after this life
make them give up raising their child together?
It is the day that the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center
will be lit and I feel guilty but I decide to leave the news coverage and go to
NYC on my TV to celebrate what should be a season of hope. It was a good move
but also bizarre. Everyone on that stage seemed so brave to me. There were the
young people in their bright red coats, tempting fate, and singing about peace
on earth. It was a lesson in the paradoxes of our lives to move from hate to hope
so quickly. When Andrea Bocelli, blind and brilliant, stood facing an audience
he couldn’t even see and sang to us all with his eyes closed, it seemed to me
an act of defiance as well as a gift of love. Living in a world that brings
forth these two events in one day is dizzying and mind-blowing and so confuses
our emotions. But it also makes the whole business so much more profound. Music
is a healer. It soothes our troubled souls and makes us smile no matter what.
And that is how something as prosaic as a Christmas special that we can see
every year, this year brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of the good that
still remains in the world.
So we will mourn again with still another group of family and
friends who have lost loved ones and at the same time we will celebrate a
hopeful season. Through our tears…through our tears of grief and of joy.
I could not write about the sad, sad killings in Charleston, SC right
away because I wanted to get some perspective first (as if this short amount of
time could help). I am not sure why this particular mass shooting has hit me so
hard but I can’t think about it without crying. I guess I was in shock when the
twenty-six beautiful children were shot in Newtown. I mourned but it did not
bring tears to my eyes or leave this thickness in my throat. Perhaps it is the
weight of all these deadly incidents piling up that makes this time so hard.
Perhaps it is the innocence of nine American people of African Descent in a church studying a Bible and accepting a
young man of Caucasian Descent into their midst. Maybe it is because he sat
with them for an hour and then killed them. How could he carry out his twisted
“mission” once he knew these people personally? I don’t understand how America
got here or how we will move away from this place, or even if we can stop hate
We cannot bring these lovely people back. I did not know them but
their survivors speak so highly of them and the things the relatives said to
that boy/man at his arraignment were things I don’t think I ever could have
said, so I just know that these were good people.
We have to, have to, try to figure out how to raise these alienated
young people that American seems to have homegrown in greater numbers than
previously over the past three or four decades. We have to figure out how to
give them the connectedness they need, offer them more love and acceptance, and
find tasks for them that make them feel useful. Our churches are not as central
to our lives as they once were. Our families are sometimes failing to offer the
support children need as they grow and mature. Our mental health system turned
away from one-on-one therapy to medications that have not proven to be as
efficacious as they were first believed to be, often because side effects lead
people to stop medicating, or are even to misuse them to the point of unhealthy
addiction. Our schools are left to handle children who are well-adjusted and
those who are not with very little help from anyone. Those who are not
well-adjusted leave school far too early because they can see that the schools
haven’t the slightest idea about how to help them turn their lives around.
Then we have the divided nature of our nation right now. We have to
look at those in the media who have been venting their anger/hate about
minorities and about the poor; who have been pretending that their attitude
towards guns is about freedom and the Second Amendment when they have almost
been, have walked the line past, talking about revolution and secession because
they believe their brand of the American way of life is being governed out of
existence. Folks who spew hate 24/7 must bear some responsibility for giving
angry “misfits” a script to follow. I do believe in free speech. Perhaps we
just don’t need quite so much of it and it doesn’t always have to sound quite
so passionate about every little imagined slight.
We also have to look at the gang culture in our cities which gives
young people an alternative to belong to an organization, but belonging to this
particular organization puts them at odds with the rest of society, turns them
into criminals, and finally delivers them to a life in prison where they are
fed and clothed, and sometimes educated, but where they, all too often, are initiated into a life that
puts them outside the hopefully more satisfying and certainly more peaceful arc
of a productive mainstream life.
Perhaps it is time to haul out that old idea of two years of community
service for our kids who opt out of college or training programs. Perhaps our
mental health system needs another overhaul where we take some of the freedom
to choose or not choose medication away from the mentally ill until we can find
a genetic way out of this difficult-to-live-with mental wiring. Or we must
harden our hearts and grieve as we go and live in fear that we also might be in
the right place at the wrong time.
This oil spill is not like Katrina. Katrina was an unprecedented natural event compounded by human error in which a really large city was destroyed by a really large storm. There were people involved, lots of American people and they were stranded without the attention they should have had. The amount of time it took to visit and rescue those people was unconscionable. This was a problem you could throw money and resources at. But our government couldn’t decide whose resources should be tapped. Those people almost died because of what was essentially a turf war. Rescue first, turf war later is the lesson we should have learned from this. The oil spill is different. I watched on the Internet for 4 or 5 days while news sources said there was no leak. Even I didn’t believe that and I know nothing about undersea drilling. If the industry had not been in denial they might have been able to tackle the problem before it was so large. It’s even scarier to think that oil companies don’t have a fix ready for when this kind of thing occurs. Now we are going to see those sad, sad birds covered with slick oil and we’ll see beautiful beaches soiled by oil and healthy wet lands suffocated by oil. What we won’t see is the people who lose their jobs, although I’m sure we’ll hear the numbers. Seafood could be quite scarce for awhile. These are not houses built by humans, that can be rebuilt by humans. This is our beautiful Earth spinning in the emptiness of space, our lovely world that is our only home damaged once again by us. Nature is resilient – it may be able to repair itself, but it will take a long time and we may reach a “tipping point” where nature no longer bounces back. This is a turf war between government and big business. The Big business in this case is supposed to be an expert in oil technology. Obama can’t fix this. He has to rely on experts. He can throw money at it and people to help with clean up, but clean up will not be effective until this oil stops flowing. The well has to be capped. Obama can’t cap the well. He will have to rely on either the BP Corporation or maybe the Army Corps of Engineers. No this is not like Katrina. There are no stranded people. But it does hit a fragile area that may be even more damaged than last time.