Let Stories Happen

Radical womanA year ago on this day, I woke in despair and disbelief. I had planned on either literally or virtually wailing at the sky last night, to mark a year of despair. Despair had remained, but disbelief had turned into belief. That is, I broke denial and came to believe that the worst actually had happened. It was not a nightmare I would wake from. It was one I was living.

But then, another election happened.

It wasn’t simply that my “side” had won. It was that the true face of America had prevailed. The pale-pink-anger-contorted faces of men had been replaced by faces of many hues and genders, including the face of a transgender woman, and a red-headed man whose grief for the woman who was taken from him by a gun rose to action for gun control.

I don’t believe that women are better than men. Nor do I believe that the hue of one’s skin determines either inherent value or inherent racism.

What I do believe is that the voices, the authentic stories of women and people of color have gone unheard long enough. It’s not that the stories weren’t being told. They were being unheard.

On Tuesday, stories were heard and they resonated and people were moved to change our cultural story.

Confederate statues isn’t our history. Slavery is our history.

Conquest of a continent isn’t our history. Genocide is our history.

Neither is a history that has been relegated to the past anymore than an abuser’s apology relegates abuse to the past.

We can only relegate our history to the past when we reconcile it. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution don’t make us a great nation. Our adherence to them is what gives us the tools for greatness. Not a greatness that means we are better than any other country, but rather, a greatness that strives to rise above fear of the other.

We reconcile and overcome our fear of the other by telling and hearing authentic stories.

On Tuesday, stories were heard and they resonated and people were moved to change our cultural story.

Tuesday was preceded by a year of what I can only call awfulness. Charlottesville. Las Vegas. Sexual assault and predation exposed and condemned, except for the alleged acts of the man who holds the office of president. Bullying disguised as strength. Racism and xenophobia vaunted as patriotism. And then seven percent of a Sutherland Springs’ population was massacred within minutes, including 8 people encompassing 3 generations from the same family, within minutes.

And then followed the story told by opining politicians: we can’t politicize the massacre by talking about gun control, only by becoming a nation of armed citizens at churches, schools, shopping malls, and so on. We must always fear the other is that story.

That is not the authentic story. That is the covering story.

Fear of change is powerful. Especially if the change means a loss of power, or a perceived loss of power. So, we need to hear the stories those in fear tell, and receive them with compassion, hearing the sub-text behind the story, then transform them.

When I hear former general John Kelly tell the story of the sacredness of his son’s death in combat, underneath the stoic acceptance I hear the unfathomable grief of losing his son, “my boy” he called him.

That, to me, the unfathomable grief of losing a child, of having a child taken violently, is the authentic story—the story that Black Lives Matter is trying to tell. That is the story Blue Lives Matter is trying to tell.

That is a story that can connect us.

We need to change the cultural story from one that divides us to one that connects us.

The only thing that will prevent massacres like Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs is to relegate assault-style weapons to their intended purpose: war. There is nothing sportsman about them. Period. Full stop.

In the late 70s Physicians for Social Responsibility used a medical model for arguing against the use of nuclear weapons: if there is no treatment or cure for a disease, the only medical option is to prevent it. I think we need to apply that argument to assault-style weapons.

That, I think, is how we can change that particular story.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.” ~Anne Frank

The quote from Anne Frank’s diary is one of her final entries. I never thought she was foolish for writing that, for believing that. I think she saw that we all have, in our hearts, the choice of darkness or light, and that in the end, light would prevail, though it might come too late to save her. Her diary is her story. We owe it to her to tell the story again. Her family, like the families in Sutherland Springs, was massacred. As were the children and teachers at Sandy Hook, the concert goers at Las Vegas, the high school students and teachers in Columbine. Columbine is no longer one of the top 10 massacres.

On Tuesday, stories were heard and they resonated and people were moved to change our cultural story.

I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

The Day After They Were Taken from Us

“A police officer entered the room and put the parents’ worst fears into words: their children were gone. The wails that followed could be heard from outside.” From the New York Times 

It’s the day after, when you wake up and life reveals it wasn’t a dream — a nightmare. Life as you know it did end. What was lost is lost. What was taken away was taken away. And before you is the void you didn’t see coming — life as it now is.

There are many ways that life can end as we know it. A trusted friend betrays you. Your job gets taken away. A loved one dies. A madman looks in your five-year old’s eyes and takes her life away.

“Were they afraid, did they see something coming?” parents asked a pastor at the site.

Please, please tell me her last memory is of my love, not the gaze of the pitiless monster.

It was, it seemed, a safe place, Newtown, Connecticut. The kind of town where children were safe — safe from the pitiless monster. But it was not.

The heroes in this carnage are the teachers and staff who tried to save the children. The responders who told the children they were evacuating to hold hands and close their eyes so they wouldn’t witness the horror. The clergy who made themselves available to the parents whose children did not come home to them.

Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger thinks we should arm teachers, that if they had guns, the innocent would have been spared.

I disagree. That is not in their job description, nor should it be.

There is no doubt that this resistance to killing one’s fellow man is there and that it exists as a result of a powerful combination of instinctive, rational, environmental, hereditary, cultural, and social factors. It is there, it is strong, and it gives us cause to believe that there may just be hope for mankind after all.”

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society

In his book, Grossman says that one doesn’t learn to overcome the resistance to killing, one is conditioned to overcome it.

I’m not opposed to that conditioning. I just think that it needs to be reserved for soldiers and law enforcement — men and women who can call on their own pitiless monster when appropriate, but aren’t seduced by its power.

“Victims Identified as Connecticut Town Seeks Answers,” a headline reads.

There are no answers — or at least none that satisfy or soothe or make any sense or make the unacceptable acceptable.

But, nevertheless, we need to ask questions. The right questions. Questions that start with the knowledge that we all have a pitiless monster inside us.

We need to talk about guns and our rights regarding them. I do not think we have the right to hunt with assault weapons. I do not think we have a right to an arsenal of weapons — particularly automatic weapons — any more than we have the right to abuse our children because they are ours.

We need to keep guns — particularly automatic weapons — out of the hands of those who have been seduced by their pitiless monster. The only way we even have the chance to do that is by making them illegal for civilians to own.

I am an American. I am neither proud nor ashamed of that. It is simply a part of who I am — the country that is in my heart.

So I feel compelled to help shape its culture — to make it one whose heart beats to the rhythm of hope for mankind, rather than the paranoid fear of “them.”

I will hold the people of Newtown, Connecticut in my heart and hope that that small act will help heal the humanity that was lost when the 27 lives were taken by a man who was taken away by his pitiless monster.

Some wisdom about talking to parents who have lost children:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/dealing-with-grief-five-t_b_2303910.html