Archive for the Theater of the Absurd Category

A Long Day’s Journey into Trump

Posted in Theater of the Absurd on November 10, 2016 by onlookerslowdown

Complacencies of the peignoir, but no coffee and oranges in a sunny chair. Instead, a series of text messages from a girl I’d met the day before, insisting that I have a good morning in the brightest way possible. But there was nothing she could do about the fact that Donald J. Trump was going to be our nation’s next President.

Not that I was all that concerned about all that. Not yet, at least. If you go back five or six months, back when a guy named Bernie Sanders was still competing for the Democratic nomination, and he’d won some big states like Michigan and Washington, and had taken Hillary Clinton to a virtual tie in Iowa, it never occurred to me that we’d be facing the inauguration of someone who calls Mexican rapists, who brags about wandering into pageant dressing rooms just to see the contestants in a state of undress, who took a loan from his father and turned it into much less than a simple investment at the average of return of an S&P 500 fund would have brought him, all the while failing to pay contractors but still ending up in multiple bankruptcies.

Back then, I thought that the Democratic Party was a liberal organization. I didn’t realize that they were just as corporately contrived as their Republican counterparts. But I learned, as the primaries wore on, that there was no way that a candidate who promised to double the minimum wage, turn expenditures on war into an investment in college education for our nation’s youth who qualified academically, and suggest peaceful outcomes for those conflicts that have killed far too many of our military personnel since our neverending war against terror (but now against decency, shredding our own moral fiber in the process) began in 2001.

So when Hillary Clinton ended up with the nomination, I slightly turned my back on the nomination. The only part of that bizarre Democratic Convention that I watched was Bernie’s speech, which the DNC hacks pushed from prime time to the end of that Tuesday night, and you could just see how sad Bernie was not to have that nomination, you could see him grit his teeth as he told us how great the Hillary Clinton whom he had earlier branded has unqualified would now be as President because she wasn’t Donald Trump.

So Bernie’s reluctance became my own. But I never thought that Trump would emerge with all 270 of those electoral votes he needed.

But he did. Pennsylvania went from a +30% margin for Clinton to a Trump state, once all those Democrats in Philly had their votes counted, followed by all of those conservatives out west, angered by Clinton’s earlier support of NAFTA and TPP, perhaps angered by her gender, and seduced by Trump’s promise to drop out of TPP and renegotiate the terms of NAFTA and, somehow, restore all those manufacturing jobs back onto American soil.

So when the day after Election Day dawned, we faced the victory of one Donald J. Trump. I thought to myself, well, now we’ll get a really progressive Congress in 2018.

But then I went to work, and I’m a teacher in a highly Hispanic district, so I saw many many kids who were now afraid of what might happen to (depending on the kid) their parents, themselves, their relatives, people they knew, friends, and the like. One of my friends at work happens to be gay, and I heard from him the horror of the idea that 59 million Americans — people who are supposed to believe in life liberty the pursuit of happiness — voted for a man who threatened to roll back marriage equality now that he was a Republican, and also had issued forth some of the most hateful words towards ethnic minorities and women during the campaign that anyone had ever said at all.

Then I thought, oh. Shit.

So when another friend suggested that we form a protest in downtown Dallas, I thought, hell, someone’s already thought of this, so I googled “Trump protest Dallas” and found that others had already had this idea. I texted him back.

Then, remember that girl who texted me this morning? Turns out she supported Trump. But I still didn’t see the horror of what this election brought to others who are not me, who are not white, straight, male, Protestant, legal citizens.

That didn’t hit me in full until I got downtown. Then I heard from people who woke up to learn about an impending Trump Administration. Some of them didn’t know if their marriages would remain legal. Some didn’t know how long they would be allowed to stay in the US. Some didn’t know if they would be attacked because they weren’t white. Some didn’t know if they wouldn’t be forced to wear a special badge because they were Muslim.

How did we get here? The goddess Justice is supposed to be blind, so that she remains fair. There’s nothing on the Statue of Liberty that says, “unless you’re white” or “unless you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.”

But you wouldn’t know that today. Because all those evangelical Christians turned out for Trump. Because Hillary and Bill Clinton decided to turn the Democratic Party into their own personal fucking ATM, ripping it away from its base, which means that they simply assumed that the poor of the nation would keep voting for them because they always had, even though the policies they suggested for the nation would do more for the Clintons’ corporate friends than the nation’s most vulnerable. Because Donald Trump seized on the economic fears of the most vulnerable and convinced enough of them that it was the immigrants, the aliens, the Muslims that were the cause of the nation’s woes to elect him to protect them from all of those phantom menaces.

So, as my friend and I listened to speaker after speaker, and then as we marched through the night, hearing the pain of protest around us, I remembered something that Bernie Sanders said at a rally I attended with my children.

“Let us understand that when we stand together, we will always win. When men and women stand together for justice, we win. When black, white and Hispanic people stand together, we win.”

But then we marched out into the night. The Dallas police were considerate of us as peaceful protesters, at least at first. But then when it became clear that we wanted to cross over a bridge into downtown, a few police cruisers became a dozen. Then came a couple of SWAT vans. Never mind that we were armed with posters, cell phones and outrage — and nothing more. That didn’t stop some of them from donning military helmets and brandishing assault rifles when it became clear that it was time for us to head back to the arena where we started.

The march was beautiful. Cries against hate. Cries for tolerance. Cries for acceptance.

Cries against Trump.

And the oppressors noticed us. Some people had dirty toilet water dumped on them. Residents of a giant high-rise next to the American Airlines Center tossed eggs down on us. Change and confrontation make people uncomfortable, angry, ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean that we can stop now.

So later, my friend and I happened into a bar where a very earnest (and very sincere) person told us that the free market would save us all. I tried to tell him that the free market brought us the Great Depression, but he just smiled and told me he was a capitalist idealist.

So I had another beer. Then a girl who called herself JFK came up and kissed us all.

But there’s still a lot of work to do. Even if Clinton had won, the work would have been huge. But now it’s monumental.

Weekend at Bernie’s

Posted in Theater of the Absurd with tags , on February 29, 2016 by onlookerslowdown
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Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders take the stage during campaign stop at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie on Sat. Feb. 27, 2016. (Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor to the Dallas Morning News)

Sometime last Friday afternoon, an announcement came across my Facebook feed telling me that #BernieSanders would be appearing in the Dallas area the next day. I had never attended a political rally in all of my 44 years, but the Sanders candidacy is unlike anything I have ever seen. I can’t remember a candidate for either party ever talking about freedom in any terms other than carrying out a military campaign; about crime in any other terms than making sure that we are tough on it; about taxes in any other terms that they are evil and must be eradicated…at least enough to get rid of the programs that the candidate on the screen didn’t like.

But where the hell does Bernie Sanders get off suggesting that a public college education should be free for everyone who wants to go? How dare he suggest that the problem behind the huge number of African-American men in prison is anything other than their own unwillingness to follow the law? How dare he argue that we have, somehow, failed because the greatest nation on the planet has not figured out how to help all of its workers live above the starvation level (I said workers, not the unemployed — his argument that the $7.25 federal minimum wage is a starvation wage has been borne out time and time again).

That’s not what we do anymore, is it? That’s the sort of liberalism that Ted Kennedy kind of railed about but no one has listened to since Lyndon Johnson’s War of Poverty got pre-empted for that conflict in Vietnam. After all, President Clinton saved the Democratic Party by driving it to the center. Today, even if the Puritan witch hunts have become a curiosity, that Puritan work ethic remains, and the mere idea of having us pay taxes to help people who are having hard times causes shock waves all over this land.

But then I learned about Bernie Sanders, and here is why I wanted to make sure that my children got to hear from this radical exception of a candidate. Yes, he refuses Wall Street money. No, there isn’t a SuperPAC collecting millions of dollars to fund campaign expenses for him.Yes, he is turning the idea of what the government should do for its people into a moral question, rather than a phrase that sucks the oxygen out of the room.

So why are all of those young people turning out in droves to hear Bernie Sanders? Why are some of us who are a little older but who have dismissed all politicians as self-interested hacks now wearing buttons and hoisting signs?

It’s not the policies themselves. Yes, they are liberal, but they’re not that outrageous on the spectrum of ideas. After all, President Obama already suggested free community college, and Vice President Biden came out in favor of K-16 education for free as well. Sanders isn’t the only person agitating for a $15 minimum wage — the New York Times is too. Sanders isn’t the only one who wants comprehensive immigration reform. He’s not the only one who wants a fair criminal justice system.

However, he’s the only one who wants these things for the reasons he wants them.

You see, you had to stay until the very end of his speech to understand that. He had already gone through his policy proposals. Some people were walking down the stairs in the balcony to try and beat the traffic home. But the vast majority were still hanging on the edge of their seats, even 45 minutes after he had begun (and several hours after they had taken their seats to see the man they’d made so many memes about).

Bernie does not like to philosophize much. Interviewers have asked him why he took on injustice at an early age in life, and he said that he didn’t know, but that he had always thought that bullying seemed wrong. But he closed his speech with these words: “community trumps selfishness, and love defeats hatred” (yes, ever tweaking the Donald until the end).

But if you didn’t stay, you missed the whole foundation of his program. It’s not about pleasing donors; it’s not about building a personal fortune. It’s not about personal prestige; it’s not about the accolades.

Instead, it’s about a vision for our country. After all, the Puritan work ethic wasn’t all witch hunts and bootstraps. When people’s barns burned down, their neighbors pitched in and helped them build another one. When people ran short on their crops, their neighbors helped them out. We don’t farm anymore; instead, we Facebook. We have become so attuned to believing whatever comes out of the electronic device in front of us that we have forgotten the importance of community and the elegance of love.

If we really believe in community, then we don’t want any child to grow up in poverty. We can’t make everyone make the right choices as adults, but we can give all of our children an even starting point, and we can put together jobs programs that give all of our adults hope. Yes, it’s expensive, but so is incarceration. The problem is that jobs programs aren’t a source of profit, but the incarceration industry has become a privatized sector of the economy that makes profits — and those revenues go to fund lobbyists, and all of a sudden our representatives have a vested interest in voting against compassion.

If we look around us with fear, then our national fabric shreds. Donald Trump isn’t new, after all. There were the bigoted rants of Father Coughlin before World War II; there was the seemingly endless series of hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. In the wake of the monstrous 9/11 attacks, what was initially an outpouring of American community became the Orwellian Patriot Act. The rise of Trump should not be a surprise.

So when I vote for Bernie Sanders, I’m turning my back on fear. I’m refusing to hate other people. Instead, I’m assuming the very best of them, while demanding the best of myself. You see, when I do that, I have a lot harder time thinking that the main export of my country should be precisely calibrated warfare. Instead, our main export should be what we say it is on July 4 — liberty and freedom. We should take our amazing ideas and our terrific people and build a society where hope isn’t something we laugh at — it’s something we really believe in. No one will ever have to call hope “audacity” again, because it will be the chief dynamic of our national life.

And is that pie in the sky? I used to think so. But now, I don’t think so anymore. #FeelTheBern

Blood Moon

Posted in Theater of the Absurd on September 28, 2015 by onlookerslowdown

blood moon

Blood Moon

I know why the moon is red tonight.

I know it is just an eclipse or something, the earth getting in the way of the sun.

A thousand years ago, it might have made me

Run for the hills, thinking

The End was at hand.

Even though I know what I know what I know,

That red moon makes me wonder.

Where did all those monsters go, anyway?

Did Satan really become our own id?

Was Grendel just a myth? So that lake never really bubbled fire?

Or did science make them smarter too?

Are they now hiding behind the names of conditions and phobias and fears?

Or do they still lurk, inside us as they always were,

Only too ready to tear us to pieces?

You go watch your television.

I’m keeping an eye on this moon.

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Contract Pending

Posted in Theater of the Absurd on July 11, 2014 by onlookerslowdown

On July 9, 2014, the house at the corner of Maurice Avenue and Sears Street in Denison, Texas, went to closing. Mae Cummings, who had owned the home for almost 60 years, sold it to a young man looking for a starter home. And a starter home it is — two bedrooms, one bath, no central air conditioning. It is a corner lot, but the lot is just a block away from a fairly depressed retail strip. From the front porch, you can see the building that a psychic uses to tell fortunes. Over the past four decades, that building has also been a hair salon, a fried chicken joint and a thrift bakery.

When you walk inside that house from the front, you see carefully polished wooden floors in the living and dining room; a small but warm kitchen; and a hallway leading to the den, bedrooms and bath. But this house is also about just a bit more — at least to me. In other ways, it isn’t, but that might not be important.

For one thing, we never entered the house from the front. We always entered at the side door, at the garage. Mae is my great-aunt, and her husband, Harold, was my great-uncle. Somehow, they always knew when we were pulling up for a visit, so at least one of them would have piled out onto the top of the stairway at the side door to greet us. I would run up those stairs and hug them both, running past them, through the small contained porch into the kitchen. There was a yellow Bakelite kitchen set with four chairs — the kind you see in museums and retro stores now — and a stove with the only timer that used hands (instead of digital numbers) that I had seen.

The drawers in that kitchen contained mysteries by the dozen, because Aunt Mae never threw anything away. There was a penny contained inside a metal disc that was actually a campaign tchotchke for Rep. Ralph Hall (“All for Hall from Rockwall” was the slogan). Actually, there were a bunch of them. There were old church bulletins that Aunt Mae had saved for scratch paper. There were enough old plastic butter tubs and lids to store food that would fit in six refrigerators. There was a set of dominoes — one in every room, it seemed.

But back to that kitchen table. In the summers, my parents would sent me to visit Aunt Mae and Uncle Harold for a week or so, and at 10:00, Aunt Mae and I would watch “The Price is Right” while I read the newspaper to her. She would watch “The Young and the Restless” at 11, but I would wander out and find something else to do. In the evenings, we would eat dinner and then play dominoes until we could barely stay awake. I still know how to play 42, Mexican Train, Shoot the Moon, games that brought much more laughter than anyone has gotten out of “Flappy Birds.”

The dining room table barely fit into the dining room, especially with the chairs and the glass cabinets that stood in there. But that didn’t keep as many of us as possible from trying to cram there for holiday dinners. A small table on the side held an impossible pile of that wacky green jello salad with fruit, corn on the cob, ham, turkey, snap beans, creamed spinach, cornbread, and that table groaned as loudly as any feast of the Greeks. I don’t know how we all fit in there, just as I don’t know how Jesus fed all 5,000 of those people with a few loaves and fishes, or how the Texas Rangers ended up in two consecutive World Series, but I know that all of these things happened.

We almost never went into the formal living room. There was a couch, love seat and two rocking chairs in there, but we weren’t supposed to sit down on anything, unless it was time to open Christmas presents there. We spent our time in the kitchen and in the den — which was where I would sleep when we spent the night there — where we would all sleep (my parents and I) while my great-grandfather lived in the second bedroom. We didn’t watch TV much — there was only one reliable channel, a hybrid of NBC and CBS that always seemed to show soap operas and evangelists.

When I look back at it now, I wonder how anyone slept on that foldout pleather couch, which didn’t really fold out but begrudgingly flattened and widened, the protozoan Futon, held up oddly by five volumes of the 1968 Encyclopedia Britannica. Uncle Harold would sit in that room and smoke at his desk until he finally went to bed, while I slept with one eye shut, listening to him ruminate and cough to himself until he finally turned the light off and went to bed. In the absence of air conditioning, Uncle Harold would position fans at either end of the long hallway and one pointing at me, moving the air around to keep us cool throughout the night. But while we all sweated in our spots in that room, somehow it didn’t matter. We were still all able to ramble through that one bathroom and all get ready for church on Sunday, even though it took us a lot longer to get ready in bathrooms of our own at home.

If you drive by the house now, the yard is wild and overgrown inside a chain link fence. You can’t see where Uncle Harold and I would sit outside in the hot summer nights, listening to the great Jon Miller, then later Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel, narrating the games through a transistor radio that was a little larger than our iPhones are now. You can’t see the clothesline where Aunt Mae would hang her laundry; even though they had the money for a washer and dryer, their house didn’t have a laundry room and wouldn’t until Aunt Mae put in an expansion a few years after Uncle Harold passed away. Aunt Mae and I would go to the laundromat and run everything through the wash. I would buy a glass bottle of Mountain Dew (“It’ll tickle your innards!”) out of a machine that was decades old, and we would throw everything (wet) into the baskets and then hang it up on those lines, with clothespins that lived in an old bleach jug with the handle cut so it could perch on that line.

None of this is unique to the house at 321 Maurice, though. Every old house has its ghosts and memories, and in a few years, it will have another set that the young man who is buying the house now will pass down to those who come after him. I just didn’t want you to think that this was just another house. I mean, it is, but it isn’t.

Bizarro Khan and Life After William Shatner

Posted in Theater of the Absurd on July 21, 2013 by onlookerslowdown

The most resonant quality about the Star Trek series is that it always poses questions that demand an answer. There are way too many movies, shows, songs, books and other art forms that package the answer for us. Voldemort was always headed to the scrap pile of literary villains; Claire was always going to find Lorenzo in Letters to Juliet. You might say that Khan was headed into some form of incarceration from the beginning as well, but the questions that arise along the way are what make this a compelling story.

Before we really start, though, it’s worth noting that Benedict Cumberbatch possesses none of the swagger of the real Khan, one of Ricardo Montalban’s signature roles. In this clip, Khan is about to find out what he wants to know from Chekhov and another crew member.

Cumberbatch’s Khan is somewhat impressive, at least in terms of his ability to shoot Klingons, but his delivery is a little bit on the emo side. True, he has been frozen for quite a while, but Montalban’s mastery of the hubris that is an important part of playing a genetically superior warrior does not emerge in Cumberbatch’s handling of the role.

It’s true that this Khan is trying to worm his way into the sympathies of the crew of the Enterprise so that he can take over the bridge of that giant new starship that the Federation has created, the Vengeance. It is worth wondering what makes Chris Pine’s Kirk distrust Khan, but it is also worth noting that Khan does not unleash his violent side until after Kirk has stunned him to the floor of the bridge of the “enemy” Federation ship.

The questions that this movie asks are not new ones — not even new to the Star Trek series. Admiral Marcus has secretly built the Vengeance to bring war with the Klingons; in Star Trek: Insurrection, Admiral Dougherty had hatched a secret plan to harness the eternal youth that the Bak’u enjoyed; in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, elements within the Federation, Romulan and other powers try to use the destruction of the ozone layer on the Klingon home planet to eradicate their civilization rather than establish a lasting peace.

Of course, the production of Into Darkness has progressed to the point where we no longer have the great F. Murray Abraham made to look like an extremely annoyed Eeyore, as appears in Insurrection:

The questions that the Star Trek franchise has thrust at us are the same ones that have been around since the beginning of time, but they are also the same ones that we still haven’t answered —

  • What does power mean?
  • What is the best way to use power?
  • If you have power over others, what should you do with it?
  • Why is it so difficult to find peace?
  • What are the impulses with in us, as individuals, that make these questions so difficult to resolve?

Caught in a quandary deep in Klingon territory, Chris Pine’s Kirk tells his crewmates, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I only know what I can do.” This is certainly a starting point when it comes to dealing with these questions.

Which brings me to the final observation. After the Star Trek reboot, I was not convinced that Pine was the one to carry what has been one of film’s most estimable roles forward — that of James Tiberius Kirk. After all, Shatner still rocks Priceline, and it was not that long ago that he was earning awards as Denny Crane. His booming voice, reckless certainty, and indestructibleness are still a major part of our culture.

Pine, though, appears finally ready to take the Enterprise on his own missions. His speech at the end of In Darkness, following his own resurrection, suggests that not only is this rebooted Kirk ready to take on a five-year voyage free of the baggage of the original stories — after all, we’ve already seen the alternative realities of Kirk and Spock’s origins, and having to deal with Khan — making the next set of adventures clearly his own. Pine looks ready to carry the role all the way.

Suffering for the Cameras

Posted in Theater of the Absurd with tags , , , on January 17, 2013 by onlookerslowdown

I find myself at odds, quite frequently, with the evangelical establishment in which I was raised. There are a lot of wonderful evangelical people out there, but I’ve been trying to put my finger on just why the establishment rankles me.

One of my friends from seminary days is now a pastor in Missouri, and he recently put up a Facebook posting saying that John MacArthur’s Found: God’s Will was available for free on Kindles. I’ve respected this friend’s opinion for some time, and so I ordered it, and I’ve been reading it in the weeks since.

MacArthur lists five things that believers need to do in order to find God’s will: be saved, be Spirit-filled, be sanctified, be submissive, and be suffering. I get it — you have to believe, and you have to let the Holy Spirit infuse your decision-making process, slowly sanctifying (making it more likely that you will make morally correct decisions) you. You also have to submit to the authority of those over you, when that authority does not go against God’s teachings. It’s that last part — the “suffering” — where the evangelicals and I differ.

MacArthur defines “suffering” as the annoyance of living as Christians in a secular world. Standing in line at the grocery store and looking at magazines with the latest Kardashian outrage on the cover. Watching gay couples holding hands, walking in the park. Listening to the drunks sitting behind you at the football game. Turning on the television and having to choose between “Two and a Half Men,” “Criminal Minds,” and “Big Rich Texas,” while your kids listen to another round of sex jokes on “Big Bang Theory” upstairs. Enduring this sort of culture, to MacArthur, is the sort of suffering that Christians must endure to put up with God’s will. One must be willing to confront these sorts of evils, wherever they exist.

This sounds really good, until you look at what Jesus confronted. Was the woman who had been married several times, and was now living with a man who was not her husband, making the best choices? We don’t know. We do know that Jesus was kind to her. He saved his ire — his “suffering” — for the religious leadership of the day. The author Donald Miller recently blogged about what the real source of the world’s problems is.

MacArthur, and the other evangelicals in his camp, would say that the world has become godless. God might agree, but not for the reasons that MacArthur might think. Instead, Miller suggests that we each ask these four questions of ourselves:

1. Am I contributing to solutions that make the world better?
2. Do I really believe I’m part of the problem in the world?
3. Where do I see hope operating in the world?
4. How can I be in the world but not of it? And what does that even mean?

If you decide to engage in these questions, you don’t even have time to notice that the writing on television shows has descended, in many cases, to a choice between shock value and schlock value. You don’t have time to notice how lost everyone is, because you’re too busy trying to make the world a better place. The “suffering” comes not from annoyance at those who are not as clean as you see yourself, but from the realization that the world should be better. Not that others should be better — but that we should all be better; the hardest part of the suffering is realizing how much better I need to be. Jesus drew others to him simply by the love He showed others; those who were able to resist His love had steeled themselves against love with laws and interpretations and loopholes. They were too busy “suffering” in front of others to realize the true nature of the anguish that points us toward Messiah, yanks our arms to constantly remind us that there is a place of peace that God has made for all of us, and shows us how far our own world is from resembling that place.

A church that was too busy changing the world to stop and complain would be much more compelling than what we have now. There are enough people who gripe; engagement is a much better way to lead one’s life; as Donald Miller would say, it leads to a much better story.

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.