Archive for December, 2012

The Rusty Scabbard

Posted in Theater of the Absurd with tags , , on December 19, 2012 by onlookerslowdown

If you’ve spent too much time reading A Christmas Carol, like me, then you know something odd about the Ghost of Christmas Present. Most of us can identify the green robe, the big wreath on the head, the cornucopia and the huge pile of fruit nearby. However, the spirit is also wearing a scabbard that has become rusty — and has no sword in it. The implication is that the scabbard has corroded from disuse, that the peace that the spirit ushers in makes swords completely unnecessary.

I have read and heard the thoughts of many people in the days since the senseless shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Some have suggested that the key is rounding up the guns; others have suggested that the key is boosting the budget for mental health services. Some have openly wished that the soul of Adam Lanza would roast for eternity; others have posted poignant pictures of the young victims, and of the young teacher who sacrificed her own life so that her students could live, hiding in cabinets just feet away from their hero as she was shot, over and over again.

The calls for banning assault rifles are coming, as one might expect, from the Left. However, they are also coming from places I would never have expected — my uncle John, who is about as conservative as it gets, and Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim, who spoke out urgently about the need to pass laws banning these guns that can fire dozens of bullets at one time, at a press conference following his 900th victory.

I’ve never heard Coach Boeheim champion any social cause of any kind. His coaching history speaks for itself, but the fact that this coach would feel the need to speak out about this shows us two important things.

ImageJim Boeheim coaching in his 900th victory, shortly before his speech against assault rifles. (AP/Kevin Rivoli)

First, our society has ground to a halt when it comes to taking action. We post, we talk, we tweet, we text, but we do very little to act. We look to our leaders to do things for us, but the problem is that our leaders look back to us, one poll at a time, figuring out just how much action is required for them to be reelected in the next cycle. Coach Boeheim said this the other day: “If we in this country as Americans cannot get the people that represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society.”

But wait, you say. It’s impossible for the man on the street to have that sort of effect. The lobbyists have gathered around Washington in just as viscous a way as cholesterol lines our arteries, slowly bringing our national heart to a stop.

Coach Boeheim won’t have any of this, and neither should you. He said, “This is our fault. This is my fault, your fault, all your faults.” So much for blaming your senator, your representative, or that president who got reelected despite having done nothing that you wanted him to do, or having done everything that you didn’t want him to do.

Boeheim went even further — and this came out at a press conference designed to celebrate his own accomplishment, not serve as a political event: “If we can’t get this thing done, I don’t know what kind of country we have. Because this is about us. This isn’t about the president or the people down there — we need to make them understand, somehow, that this needs to get figured out. We have to move quick, not six months from now.”

Don’t have any ideas? Contact your Congressional representative.

That’s a place to start, anyway. If you hate the fact that an assault rifle blew away the locks that were keeping those children safe, let them know. If you hate the fact that spending on the mentally ill is falling, even while we continue to fire missiles that would, each, pay for years of these programs, let them know. If you can’t figure out why no one can figure out how to balance a budget even though the government takes in billions and billions in revenue each year, let them know.

That’s just the first step, though. Washington, our statehouses, and our city councils can’t do everything for us. Which brings me to our second point — that the best weapon against the next Adam Lanza is each of us. It is starting to look like Lanza was outraged that his mother was going to try to have him committed. There are many people in this country who suffer from illnesses of the mind, diagnosed and undiagnosed. Whether Lanza was just an Asperger’s sufferer who got more and more tangled up in his own thoughts, to the point that his mother realized he needed more help than she could provide, or whether there was something even more deadly at work in his gray matter, the bottom line is that we need to start paying more attention each other.

That’s right. We need to put down our smartphones and tablets and e-readers and give attention to the world around us. If we can do so with kindness, even better. This doesn’t mean that Adam Lanza became one of the most notorious killers in history because he didn’t have enough friends. But if more people had paid attention, if fewer had turned their backs on him, if that human tendency to let people spin off cliffs to their own demise (and to the demise of others, in too many cases) had somehow not kicked in, Lanza might have gotten help when he was still a kid. He might be institutionalized, instead of having shaken the institutions to their knees.

One of my students came up to me today and told me that her grandmother had told her to stay away from odd people at school, because you never knew what they were going to do. I’m sure the grandmother meant well, but I have never heard of anyone who’s gone and found an assault rifle and shot everyone around him because they were being too nice to him.

My son, this evening, told me about a boy at his school who is routinely ridiculed because of his odd behavior. I asked him to describe this behavior, and it consists of things like hanging out near groups of his peers, waiting to be included, only to shout out weird things when they do include him. Nothing inappropriate, just weird. My son and his friends tend to laugh with this boy and then go on about their business. Others, according to my son, are not as nice, throwing insults at this boy.

Let’s go ahead and get rid of these rifles that can shoot bullets a dozen at a time. That way, they won’t be at hand when the next tortured young man looks for a way to make his last stand. It’s hard to kill with such efficiency with a handgun or a traditional rifle.

But let me leave you with two images. In order to receive his full blessing after reclaiming his throne, Odysseus had to take an oar and go on a journey inland, until he reached people so far from the sea that they had no idea what an oar could do, or what it was. At that point, he was to make a shrine of the oar and sacrifice to Poseidon. What if we made our own corner of the world a place where we paid such attention to one another that no one needed such an awful weapon to make a last statement? That might seem as far-fetched as a place where no one understands the purpose of an oar, or as a specter wearing, about his waist, a relic of the time when people still took up weapons to settle their differences, a relic that had rusted from disuse. It takes a commitment to each other, across the lines of family, culture and class. But it could keep our children — and all of us — safe, much safer than locks and ID badges and policies.