Some choices about guns (and life)

There was something about Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernadino that really got to me.

It “pierced my heart,” as a friend said.

In the hours and days that have followed, I’ve asked myself, over and over,”What are you going to do about it?”

Many have asked themselves the same question and more than a few have chimed in with their answers, wisdom…and hysteria. Some have shared what comes from within their own minds, their own hearts.  Others have just parroted the mob’s responses.

I haven’t. In part, that is because I wanted to let the question simmer a bit.  Also, it’s because I didn’t know what to say or what to do.

It’s so hard, isn’t it?

When you learn of, first, 8, then 10, then 12, then 14 people being murdered, it scratches and tears and menaces…and instructs…so many parts of our pierced hearts.   Receiving all of that, listening to it, responding to it, takes time.

How much time cannot be known. It cannot be predicted.  For it is the time realized on each of our journeys.

What do we do as that process unfolds?

There’s no definitive answer, but I do think there are a few possibilities we do well to keep in our minds…and hearts.

Choose in a way that is authentic.

The first possibility is to re-mind ourselves that, action, like everything in life, is a choice.  The choice isn’t about being right or wrong, it’s about being authentic (or inauthentic) to you (not the crowd). In times like these, it can seem as you have no choice but to act on the matter of guns in America.  To demand gun control or to oppose it.  It can feel like you must take a stand. But you don’t have to.  And, if you don’t, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a poor citizen. It just means that guns are not where you direct your energy.

I don’t choose to devote energy to gun reform.  Instead, I choose to focus on asking “Why?”  Why do 89% of the white men who die by firearm die by suicide?  I ask because I don’t think taking away the way you kill yourself takes away the reason.

I ask why is that 41% of the gun owners in America are white, yet young black men are 20 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than their white counterparts. Because I think it’s important to ask why guns make white people safe, but black men more likely to die. What’s the history? The motivations?

That’s what I choose to ask, to seek.  Maybe you look at the issue differently. Maybe you don’t think about it at all.

I don’t have a problem with that because, again, we’re all free to choose.  Differently. Or not at all.

But, as you follow the path of whatever it is you choose, I would invite you to consider three possibilities:

Choose in a way that considers not only what is happening outside, but also inside.  A story:  I couldn’t sleep Thursday night.  At about 3 am, I got up and went to the couch.  My mind was obsessed with what happened in San Bernadino.  I could see the shootings, I could feel the pain of those left behind, I could hear the panic of those Americans who were shouting, screaming, crying “Enough!”

“What’s really going on here?” I asked myself, knowing that, while I felt compassion for those who died, for the families left behind and for our hurting, scarred (and scared) country, there was something going on within me, too. Something personal.

Two things, actually:  First, I had been procrastinating like hell the past few weeks. In some ways trivial, in others significant. And what happened outside of my daily life in San Bernadino had panicked me about my own choices to procrastinate. It had left me, at 3 a.m., wondering what would happen if, one day, I waited too late to call my mom or if I putzed around so long on writing my book that the window of opportunity closed. What if the trip to Europe my partner and I have been waiting to take when the time is right never happened.

Because one of us ran out of time.

These aren’t rational thoughts, but they are real thoughts.

The second thing that seemed to be “really going on” showed up quietly, gradually, painfully.  It had to do with last week’s six month anniversary of my dog’s death.  I had known I would honor the milestone with an external ritual, but I had denied an internal cry that wanted to be honored, too.  When San Bernadino pierced my heart, that cry was, first, projected onto something else, but in the wee small hours of the dark, dark night, it also was finally heard for what it was: a cry to tend to a wound within me that is still raw, still large.

So I did.

I have.

I am.

In doing so, I went deeper than honoring the victims in San Bernadino.  I also honored myself.

Choose in a way that sees both dark and light. A woman on Facebook recently told me that I must be “blind and deaf” to not see (and not be terrified) by all that is wrong with the world. The floods, the murders, the poverty…the bees. I responded that I do see and hear those things, but I also see and hear their opposite. It’s not always easy, but I consciously choose to devote energy to seeking beauty, grace, love and compassion in this world.  It never fails to show up, in ways both expected and unexpected.  And I never cease to wonder at how that beauty, that grace, that compassion always, always, always outweigh violence, hate…and fear.  If we choose to see it.

Choose in a way that is kind. I know I’ve written about kindness before, but, boy, does it sure need repeating these days.

So I will repeat it, but this time with a question: When is the last time you changed your behavior–and I mean really changed it–because someone told you that you were an asshole?  Stupid? Fucked up?

Now, swing on over to your Facebook feed.  Or think about how you talk to your friends or co-workers about folks with whom you disagree.

What do you see? What do you say? Any surprises there (I know there often are for me)?

To me, it’s simple.

If you think we should reform how people get guns in our country, say it.  But consider saying it without personally demeaning those who disagree with you.  If you think our immigration laws are lax in America, say that.  But don’t call immigrants derogatory names. If you think Christianity is wrong, say that.  But consider doing so without attacking Christians themselves.

And, with all of the above, please consider making your point in  a way that promotes discussion rather than your own self-awarded superiority.

Now, I know that there are those who might dismiss these possible choices as ridiculous.

They might argue that the world is falling apart and now is not the time for “navel-gazing” (though I’ve always quite liked looking at my navel, alas I can no longer bend down enough to see it!).

They might think, as Hillary Clinton does, that you don’t change hearts.  You can only change minds.

And they might think that the issues before us today are mighty battles and that you don’t win battles with kindness.

To which I would say, ya know, we’ve tried your way.  Maybe now is the time to choose differently.  Maybe it’s time to consider Rumi’s words:

Ordeal. The time of testing is here./Words like “fortitude” and “valor” mean something among people again./Old agreements weaken and break. When the knife reaches bone, your life must change.