It has been a rough week. Emotionally, I’m spent. Our latest American massacre hit me hard. (I should specify that I mean the one in San Bernardino, in case while I’m writing helicopters and hashtags are moving on to a newer, fresher massacre.) I can’t shake the dread. Maybe because it’s on the heels of Paris, which showed us that simple pleasures cannot be enjoyed without looking over your shoulder. Maybe because San Bernardino is physically closer to me than other recent shootings – a place I’ve been and could give you directions to. But most likely, it’s because earlier this week, while reeling from the horrors in San Bernardino, our phone rang with a message: “This is your Principal. Today we had an anonymous telephone threat at our school.” A threat to shoot up the playground.
Do you remember watching the shooting rampage in Columbine unfold? The bafflement you felt? I remember crying, feeling numb. But now, the numbness is gone. Every new shooting brings sighs of regret and outbursts of anger. But we move on.
Perhaps that’s for the best? We still have to send our children to school, go to work, fly on airplanes to visit grandparents. We have to go to the doctor. We cannot persist in a state of numbness and crying, so we have adapted to the new world order. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we have to leave our homes. We have to push the feelings somewhere in our psyche that says, “this won’t happen here.”
And then it does.
We have a choice: If shooting massacres are par for the course, we either take them in stride, or we have a radical revolution.
To be clear, I am not advocating a revolution of more guns. We cannot shoot our way out of this danger. (I understand the temptation of thinking “If someone at that [school, church, office] had a gun, maybe they would have stopped the killers.” But that sentiment flies in the face of data. To wit: There have been many massacres on military bases. I would be okay with more police officers, more licensed, vetted security (as opposed to every parent in carpool packing heat). But the radical revolution I want is to stop shooters before they start shooting, to make it harder to get guns.
We can debate if the 2nd Amendment allows it, but we do not have to debate if this works. We can point to Australia. We can decide to stop wasting time debating.
This morning, a packed auditorium of angry and terrified parents showed up at our elementary school to find out what the Principal and District are going to do about safety, in light of the telephoned threat. It was an hour of blaming, worrying, demanding answers and suggesting improvements.
After this tense meeting, I headed to Torah Study. I walked in late. I took a breath and exhaled. I couldn’t concentrate. I listened half-heartedly to the conversation, the joking and questions and responses. My mind was on the playground, filled with scenes of what could have been. I tuned in at the last minute to hear our rabbi say, “Being present for one another” is what makes everything okay when nothing else is okay.
“Being present for one another” can be a path out of despondency, and it can be the catalyst to make a safer world:
Be there for each other. Rally together with one voice to change our culture of defending an absolute unfettered right to as many guns and bullets as you want. (Be there for each other may also counsel me not to demonize people who disagree with me. I’m going to presume that even the NRA is opposed to mass murder by gun, even if they happen to be part of the problem.)
Be there for each other. Pick up the baton when someone needs a rest from this campaign.
Be there for each other. Call your Congressman and Senator every day until they tell you their plan to make us safer.
Be there for each other. Inspire each other to think of creative solutions, because we are stuck in a stalemate that does not make us safer.
Be there for each other. Encourage each other to stay as outraged and motivated by heartbreak as we once were, and still need to be.