Horror is all too common of late. It indicts us, and our inaction, and our self-righteousness. It leaves us searching blindly for narrative, for meaning, for sense. It drives us to a place of confusion and darkness because we already have a story, and the story is about being a beacon of the free world and a bastion of hope and a place where anyone can be great, and this is not that story.
Instead, this is a story about how our division and our fear and our posturing makes us weak. This is a story about a nation where horror is disclaimed, but nothing is done to prevent it. This is a story about championing liberty and justice, but refusing to ensure it for all. This is a story about the apotheosis of freedom through empty rituals, while the real freedoms we need are marked daily and ignored.
The people who died in Orlando this past weekend are our common responsibility, and the direct result of our paralysis and division. This is not the first time. It is not the second, or the tenth, or the hundredth, or the thousandth. If we continue as we have, this will not be the last time, because every other time we have done nothing.
So this is a story about us, and our monumental failure to be who we say we are.
Predictably, we try to fix this story. Instead of acknowledging that we have woefully fallen short, and that we continue to fall short, we try to fill the void with stories we already have. To make sense of the senseless, we paint over it with whatever is ready to hand.
My conservative friends say we need more concealed carry permits, and this would have stopped the violence. The evidence does not suggest this is true, but it is something they already think, so it is comforting to repeat it now.
My liberal friends say we need to ban assault weapons (or, a few say, repeal the 2nd amendment all together). The evidence of whether this would work is mixed, and perhaps the killer here would not have been so deadly had he not had easy access, but there are no guarantees, and this is not the panacea so many think it is. But it is something they already believe, so it is comforting to repeat it now.
Doubtless in the coming days, politicians too will jump into the fray, and they will treat the people who were murdered this weekend as evidence for their own pre-existing ideas. The media, absent its bright spots, will repeat all these stories about things we already believe, and will say little or nothing about what we have yet to consider.
This is the time, as it always has been, when we will cling to familiar narratives with the fierce strength and unthinking desperation of a drowning man. We will struggle, and grasp, and flail, and write our grief crassly into history as a national conversation, and nothing more.
I don’t know how to make meaning of this either. But I don’t think we should rewrite this story with all the familiar arguments. I think we should face the brutal facts: that we tolerate hate, that we willfully enable it, and that we treat those who die of our negligence as acceptable losses, because facing our collective choices is too hard. This isn’t our story, yet this is what keeps happening.
I think hate should have no place here. I think it should be swiftly and strongly condemned, and its purveyors should be given deep disdain instead of podiums and pulpits. I think, if nothing else, we should have the courage to challenge our stories instead of clinging to them.
We say, often, that we are better than this. Will we ever choose to be so?
Image Credit: Brian Talbot