Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stumbling Toward Grace

What a relief it would be to fold oneself in faith at a time like this, a time when there are no facts to fall back on and no reason to latch on to. It's taken a couple of days for me even to be able to talk about what happened at the elementary school in Connecticut. Paul and Olivia are watching part of the memorial service tonight, but that sort of thing gives me no comfort at all.

I remember very clearly dropping Olivia off for her first day at kindergarten. When she attended Pre-K at Newfield, Paul was there with her every day, so I'd never before had the feeling I had when she set off for Dryden Elementary that day—the sense that I was thrusting her into the world and would spend hours each day not knowing whether she was okay. I knew and trusted her teacher; it was the world I didn't trust. Just a year or two before, there had been an incident at that school involving a kindergarten teacher and her ex-boyfriend. That time, no one had been injured. The district quickly implemented new rules about entry into the schools. Things returned to normal. But it was always in the back of my mind, the idea that this place whose safety I required and expected might not be entirely benign.

The progressivism that represents my belief system is at least as optimistic as most religions are—like religion, and unlike conservatism, it makes the future seem less scary. Progressivism or liberalism by its very nature assumes that a better future is possible. Whereas in religion the future is out of our hands, in politics it is entirely up to us. Contrasting religion and politics through the lens of Deborah Tannen's work on men and women in conversation, the former might be female and the latter male, with prayer being a search for empathy and political speech a call for action.

The president's speech at the memorial service tonight, which I did take a break to listen to, was a cozy combination of religion and politics. I'm sure he will get grief for comparing exurban Connecticut six-year-olds to drive-by victims in our nation's cities, but a child is a child and a gun is a gun. Not content to be the grief counselor in chief, he told his audience that he wants a political solution to the horror of mass murder.

Me, too. This amazing piece has streaked across the Internet today, to the extent that for a while I thought it was apocryphal. (If you can't access it there, because too many people are trying, it's also available here, among dozens of other sites.) Just this past year, an adult son killed his mother in Cayuga Heights after years of mental health problems. It is clearly easier to purchase guns than it is to get adequate health care of any kind, and especially mental health care. So that's one place to start. As for guns, well, that's a tough conversation at any time, and this case doesn't provide easy entry. The gunman used legal weapons that belonged to his mother's collection. Why his mother had a collection, and why the guns weren't locked, and how he purchased ammunition for them all—those are all questions yet to be answered. The description of the shootings sounds to me like video game shootings—that kind of overkill, that kind of randomness. So do we need to start having first-amendment vs. safety conversations, too? I'm not sure, but probably. And we need to talk about whether we want our children's schools to resemble armed camps. Our local elementary schools will all have a visible police presence tomorrow. I'm not thrilled about that. And maybe we need to talk less about divine grace and more about interhuman mercy.

If there's any conclusion to be drawn from the past three days, it's that the current 24-hour media cycle is desperately broken. Not one thing we heard in the first few hours turned out to be true, down to the name of the assailant. Facts are still coming out that contradict things that were stated as gospel on the first day. It's not even about bad reporting, although there was plenty of that. It's about having to say something every minute of every day. If you talk incessantly, at least some of what you say is bound to be nonsense.

The binary belief that the president reflected briefly in his speech, the belief in good v. evil, is at best simplistic and at worst a roadblock to a solution. Yes, I can see that it's comforting. But once again, it's passive and accepting. I prefer not to accept mass murder as the new normal.

LATER: I should have included this, the best of many op eds this weekend.


Diane said...

I assume by now you've read the responses to the "I am.." blog: The mom sounds like a nutcase too. So that's not true either...

KAZ said...

Yeah, I read a lot of her personal blog, and all I can say is that she's a good writer and will probably soon have a book deal. As for publicly declaring her fear of her son--heck, I think that's brave and probably rose out of complete despair. She did get on CNN the other day and admit she had no idea anyone read her stuff, which is what I said when my school board attacked me several years ago for saying some nasty things about sexual harassment in the schools.