You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun

I’m quick on the trigger with targets not much bigger
Than a pin point, I’m number one.
But my score with a feller is lower than a cellar-
Oh you can’t get a man with a gun.

From Annie Get Your Gun, by Irving Berlin

Annie OakleyI was single and lonely in June 1986 when Newsweek hit the newsstands with the cover story “The Marriage Crunch,” which reported that a college-educated woman over 35 had only a 5% chance of getting married and by the time she reached 40 she was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to marry.

I mean what does a smart woman do with that information?

I remember thinking during the days after 9/11 that instead of color-coding terrorist warnings, that they should use a system of wedding bells. One or two and we were safe. Three or more, take cover because those over-35-year old college educated women were taking us down with their marital bliss.

I thought of this again in light of the near mass hysteria after the rampage in San Bernardino, which was the third mass shooting since the rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado less than a week before.

I am not making light of the fear engendered by these incidents, I just find it interesting that near-mass hysteria arose out of the tragedy in San Bernardino. Terror is terror. Yet, our collective psyche gives weight to the terror inflicted by crazed, religious zealots we have defined as the ”other,” which has come to mean Muslims.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims are descendants of the same father, Abraham, and the God they all look to for meaning. You can find gnarly passage in each traditions’ holy text, so in spite of the likes of Bill Maher, none can claim the high ground when it comes to massacre in the name of that God. It’s sibling rivalry vying for the position of one-who-dad-loves-most.

I think the roots of this can be found in the story of Sarah and Hagar and Abraham. When she could not conceive, Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham to be the surrogate mother. This was apparently fairly common practice back in the day. Hagar bore Ishmael. Years later Sarah bore Isaac. The women became jealous of each other, vying for whose son would be the favored.

Hagar was an Egyptian slave, so was always considered the outsider. The “other” (her name even means Other) always loses. Sarah insisted that Hagar and Ishmael be exiled—sent out into the desert to fare for themselves. They were given a loaf of bread and, as a sign from Abraham that they were under his protection and so should not be killed by the tribe—a small skin of water.

Their exile was pretty much a death sentence in and of itself. The landscape is unforgiving. The water quickly ran out. The story goes that as Hagar watched her son lie dying of thirst, God showed her a miracle, she found water, and they lived.

I try to imagine how a woman could exile another woman and her child to certain death. It was all over whose son would be “king.”

newsweek1Around the time Newsweek was reporting on my fate, I had become friends with an African-American woman (I’ll call her Janet) who had been raised in the south. Her mother was the maid to a Jewish woman. Being Jewish in the south in the Sixties was just slightly safer than being African-American.

In 1965, Janet and the son of her mother’s employer fell in love and she became pregnant. He was killed in a church bombing. She gave birth in the Negro ward. A nurse approached her and asked her to wet nurse a white baby whose mother was having trouble nursing it. I don’t remember the details, but the baby’s life depended on being nursed.

Janet said she had to think about it. I asked her why she had to think about it.

“Because that child could grow up to kill my child,” she said.

“What did you decide?” I asked.

“To nurse him.”

“Why?” I asked.

“My mother told me I had no choice. This was a child.”

The story of Sarah and Hagar is the story of women who derive their power, their status, from men. It was written long ago, in a landscape that was harsh and unforgiving.

I think it’s time to change that story.

Women need to claim their own power, rather than derive it from another source. We have the power to carry and nourish life, whether it is literally by bearing and nourishing a physical child, or metaphorically by recognizing our bodies know inherently what is required to bear and nourish a child, and make choices accordingly for ourselves, our families, the society we live in, and the global community we inhabit.

In a recent New York Times interview, Tina Fey describes the two characters in her new movie “Sisters” as being in conflict, but not competition.

I think that’s how we change the story. Recognize that conflict is not competition, that conflict feeds collaboration and cooperation.

We need to commit to never again sending a woman and her child into the wilderness because we are afraid them, but rather find a way to make room for both their child and ours. To do what my friend Janet did and nurse the child with the hope that a life sustained by love can be a person who grows up to trust love over hate.

The underlying message of the “The Marriage Crunch” was the one I had been given earlier in life: you cannot be an individual and be in a loving relationship.

Kind of what happened to Abraham and Sarah and Hagar.

If you buy that, perhaps those Newsweek statistics were true.

One might say I beat the odds spelled out in 1986. I got married. But really, I met and fell in love with a man who is not afraid of me.

So what does this have to do with Annie Oakley? Maybe nothing, but it was during that time in 1986 when I was single and lonely that I heard the lyrics to “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” from Annie Get Your Gun, a fictionalized account of Annie Oakley.

I’m going from notes here, but apparently the musical ends with Annie purposely losing a shooting match with the man she loves to soothe his ego (You Can’t Get a Man With A Gun). And so they marry. She got her man.

Not who Annie Oakley was (see above).

It’s true you can’t get a man with a gun. It’s also true that putting weapons in the hands of amateurs does not make us safer from crazed people armed to the teeth with weapons of massive destruction. The professionals proved this in the resolution of the San Bernardino massacre.

That was a non-sequitor, but I couldn’t end this post without saying it.

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