Friday, January 14, 2011

Thinking about Arizona

I've tried to come up with numerous things to post about the horrible murders in Arizona. Two or three different times I started posts about this, but nothing felt authentic; couldn't formulate words that didn't sound like the regurgitation of select passages from the New York Times opinions section. So I figured there were just some things I couldn't write about. Not this: I can't point blame (even though it would be so easy to point fingers at the political tactics and rhetoric of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck...but that's like blaming Eminem for outbreaks of spousal abuse, or Marilyn Manson and video games for teen anger and school shootings), I can't make light of this, can't glean anything witty from it. It's too sad. But still, I couldn't get what happened in Tucson out of my head, and it brought me back to so many other feelings I've had before. So I'm just going to try to sort them out, and maybe other people are feeling the same way, or are coming to the same conclusion that I am.

The feeling I now want mostly to convey is that of confusion. It reminded me of the ways I felt after the Oklahoma City Bombing and the Columbine shooting (not so much September 11, where there was a clear, foreign enemy; a whole body of people to be angry at): frightened, upset, and very confused. I remember seeing pictures of bloody kids being rescued from the building in Oklahoma, and that I was afraid of bombs for a very long time (like, years. what can I say? I was a sensitive child). I was seven when it happened, and I asked my dad why someone, an American guy who, to me, looked pretty regular (save for the orange jumpsuit and the handcuffs, as he was shown so widely on television) would bomb a building. "Bombing"-- when I was seven-- seemed like something that belonged far away, in another time. Dad told me that the man who bombed the building in Oklahoma was "angry at the government," and in my innocence, I wondered how that could ever be possible.

Slowly, I, just like everyone eventually does, realized that violence like the bombing in Oklahoma happens all the time, though sense is never really made out of any of it. Outliers, freak accidents, and crazy people with access to weapons will probably always exist, even in America. Even in the place where we celebrate Thanksgiving and sing about liberty and freedom. This isn't to say that we live in a world of complete and utter chaos, but there are many circumstances that are simply beyond our control. I know this now, but as a child (and still, if I allow myself to dwell on things) I was always the worrying sort. Anything I didn't have control over or that couldn't be helped by humans was bound to keep me awake at night.

Right after Oklahoma, in the summer of 1995, I saw an issue of Time magazine with photos of horribly burned people. The cover displayed a huge, mushroom-like firecloud.  Once again, I asked my dad (the family guru of all things historical, political, and the like) what this was all about. He told me all about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the aftermath. The thought of atomic bombs scared the living daylights out of me. The worries didn't stop from there. In the 5th grade, my teacher told the class that "Massachusetts was long overdue for a large earthquake." GREAT. That one kept me awake for months, if not years. I saw The Sixth Sense, and wasn't so much bothered by the ghosts than the fact that they didn't know they were dead. After TWA flight 800, and further exacerbated by September 11, I (even to this day) hate flying on airplanes. I once told my dad I would never go to California or Hawaii because there were Earthquakes and Volcanoes. And you know what he told me? "You can't live your life in fear, or you'll never see anything. And that's not living." I never forgot that.

Random acts and forces of nature shape our lives. On one hand, it would be wonderful if we could stop the atrocities committed by humans, and I do believe that we should sincerely try. There should be no way that a person can simply walk into a warehouse and purchase a military grade machine gun and a magazine that could mow down 30 people without reloading, no background check or anything. I don't care what the second amendment says, any civilian looking to buy that kind of weapon is going to use it to kill people. On the other hand, we must accept that there are going to be many, many things in this life that are simply out of our control. Sometimes, as the saying goes, you must let go, and let God. This could scare anyone into living as a hermit. You can't think of the fact that every time you step into a car, you could get into an accident, because if you did, you would never leave the house. Balance is achieved when you do everything in your power to avoid chaos through your actions in the world. Tackle the things that scare you. Do the best you can at being a good, safe driver, and wear your seatbelt. Vote for gun control, be anti-war, and if you believe in karma, or heaven, or just being a good person, do unto others as you would have done to yourself.

So that's a long way from the beginning of this post, but we, as a country, really should learn from what has become a stopping point for political pundits everywhere. It would be easy enough to sink back into the old rhetoric, but in the long run, as detrimental as it was before.

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