In the wake of the Newtown tragedy in Connecticut on Friday, I have struggled because I simply have no words. Instead I am going to share a post of a friend of mine here in Western Massachusetts who writes powerfully from personal experience:
Like many of you who I know are reading this,
as people who have intimate experience with the intersection of
violence, guns and mental illness and what that can precipitate, my
deepest heart grieves, and much has arisen to think about.
image is very similar to a poster my father had on the wall of his
office at the MD S.P. crime lab: for the many of you who know how his
life, career, and death were inherently intermingled with this issue.
Many folk are reposting many great and eloquent things. Many public
figures are saying asinine things and, I say this out of a place of
fierce compassion (in the Buddhist sense) need an intervention and/or an
opportunity for empathy and perspective.
The only thing I feel
I can add to the mix which hasn't been said before is a story that was
shared to me by a friend who lives in a very, very rural, and very, very
poor part of North Carolina:
There was a member of her
community who was off, no doubt. And it was public knowledge that he
had an arsenal. And he was making threats. And the community, knowing
what could happen: they approached him, and talked to him, and helped
him. He did end up in a prolonged shootout with police in the end, but
he didn't carry out his alleged plans to take out his rage and despair
on his community members.
I don't think this is anything
remotely resembling the general state of our communities in this
country. There are books and books and books documenting this (Bowling
Alone, etc...). While it's incontrovertible that with gun control, we
would not be having these massacres (the facts back me up, but you know,
facts are inconvenient, so I don't expect those who disagree with me to
check them out), I think the larger, deeper, problem is that we (all of
us as individuals, I truly mean it) perpetuate a culture where the
mentally ill, or even folks who are struggling with hard issues, are
marginalized from our communities and alienated from personal
relationships that would also otherwise prevent this sort of thing from
happening. The social pressure release has dissolved. What happened in
Connecticut was evil-- in that it's an extension of our own failure to
address these problems and our own failure to care for each other, which
is perhaps the hardest part to admit, and why there's blame and
distancing being thrown around like confetti. It's not "them" (being
the NRA, the murder, gun dealers, etc... although the blood is on their
hands and money), but this is a symptom of "us."
So how are we
going to fix us? How are we going to take the guns away from a culture
that isn't mature enough to have them? How do we care for people who
struggle whom we feel uncomfortable around? How are we, collectively,
and personally, keep returning to the uncomfortable issue and being
engaged as it slowly fades from our collective memory? How do we
manifest and respond to our own personal share of responsibility in
this? For my Christian friends: How do we be more like Christ in our
actions in the world beyond just words? (it's actually written out for
us)? For my fellow Buddhists: How do we manifest metta beyond a
meditation techniue? For all of us: what needs to happen in our heads
and hearts to grow the cojones to take care of our neighbors-- to really
do it in action and not just in symbolic words and gestures?
This book took me through ten states and over 10,000 miles of highway, to rural Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, prosperous New South suburbs and New Orleans after the flood. I talked to pretty much anyone who would talk to me—black and white, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Catholic.
I witnessed protest rallies and Pentecostal tent revivals. I visited megachurches and a pacifist Christian commune. I met a few scary people and many more kind, hospitable ones.
I heard some stories you might or might not believe...