Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Aurora

Meeting a Hero

Having lost my wife last month and my father in November of last year, I know the awkwardness caring people bring with them when they want to express their condolences. Both my wife and my father died of cancer, an insidious, destructive disease that kills from the inside out. But what do you say to someone who has had a loved one taken from them violently? We anthropomorphize cancer and speak of the “battle” waged against a nefarious foe. But what “battle” can we speak of having been waged against an instantaneous, violent death? It is simply chaos from the cosmos, dropped upon the heads of those who survive. In some cases, it is the Damocles sword of gun violence befalling someone dear to us without warning.

So it will be with my meeting Sandy and Lonnie Phillips tomorrow at a meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. As none of you will remember, my very first blog post was simply a reposting of their daughter Jessi’s blog about having just missed a mass shooting at a mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012. She was murdered 48 days later at the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012.

In fact, despite continuing to write about it on my little blog, it wasn’t until the murder of twenty schoolchildren and 6 of their educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School that I was forced to act. It was while listening to a conference call of the Brady Campaign on January 7, 2013, that I heard Jessi’s heartbreaking story told by Sandy Phillips. The next week I was speaking out at Democratic clubs around Houston of the need for action to quell the violence guns were having on American society.

I consider my need to act an outpouring of love for my children. No longer could I look them in the eye and deplore gun violence without taking a stand and working to affect change. Whatever effect I might have (however small), had to be done for my children and their future. However, I attribute any courage I had to speak out publicly to Jessi, Sandy, and the parents and family members of those who were killed at Sandy Hook. But especially Sandy. Because while I had a hard time imagining me ever getting out of bed again should something so horrible befall my children, Sandy was out there speaking and acting, every day, despite the pain of her loss. And I know that change cannot be made without the efforts of those beyond the parents and family members of gun violence victims. People like you. People like me.

At a counter-rally outside the 2014 Annual NRA Paranoia Jamboree in Houston, I saw Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hockspung, murdered principal at Sandy Hook Elementary. I also saw the father of one of the murdered children. Despite their proximity and my desire to meet them, I was embarrassed to introduce myself. But was it the simple awkwardness attributed with expressing condolences or was it my guilt for not acting sooner to address gun violence? I don’t know the answer to that. I left them alone, content to stand alongside them that day in opposition to the more guns everywhere agenda of the NRA.

Tomorrow will be interesting. I am nervous, anxious and excited. I consider Sandy Phillips a hero. I don’t want to injure her or embarrass myself by saying something stupid or insensitive. It has been over three years now since I became active in this movement and I’ve seen it gather momentum despite roadblocks and disappointments. So, in spite of my nervousness tomorrow I will meet Sandy Phillips. I admire her too much not to attend.

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Aurora Verdict

Remembering the Victims

George Orwell, in Politics and the English Language, wrote that “Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” And so it is with the concept of the death penalty, for me. I realize this is a personal issue, not unlike abortion (ironic how much  the two have in common) and elicit powerful emotions on both sides of the debate.

Today, the jury in Colorado could not agree on a penalty for the shooter in the July 20, 2012, Aurora theater shooting which claimed the lives of Jonathon Blunk, age 26; AJ Boik, age 18; Jessie Childress, age 29; Gordon Cowden, age 51; Jessica Ghawi, age 24; John Larimer, age 27; Matt McQuinn, age 27; Micayla Medek, age 23; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, age 6; Alex Sullivan, age 27; Alexander Teves, age 24; and Rebecca Wingo, age 32 and injured another 70 resulting in a default penalty of life in custody without the possibility of parole. The toll might have been significantly higher had his 100 round drum magazine not jammed on his assault rifle or his boobie-trapped apartment detonated as planned.

And yet, with all of that, I still do not feel that the death penalty would have been appropriate. For one thing, it triggers an immediate and almost mandatory appeal. Many of the objections rendered by the defense during the trial were simply for the record in order to reference for the appeal process. The thought of making the families go through another trial is sickening. While time may scab over some of our horrible memories, I do not believe in “closure” and I do not believe these scabbed over wounds can ever heal. The likelihood of an appeal for a penalty of life without parole is significantly reduced.

Furthermore, there is ultimately no “relief” in a lethal injection for the families. There would have been no pain during his execution, no agony, no prehistoric carnal retribution, if that’s what you were looking for. No eye for an eye. The people in the theater suffered, those that died suffered, those that were injured suffered. Those that were uninjured were terrified. No one there will ever be the same. Ever.

In fact, we treat the worst criminals better than we treat the terminally I’ll. The shooter would be given a gentle drug to put him to sleep and then another to stop his heart. As I type this, I am sitting at my desk watching my wife suffer the end effects of breast cancer as it seeks to conquer her lungs, liver, pancreas, abdominal wall, and probably brain. She struggles for each breath and there is nothing she can do about it. Where is her dignity? Where is her justice? Where is her gentle drug cocktail?

No, I do not believe in the death penalty. I believe this jury got the penalty correct. His penalty should match that of the survivors and remaining family members who have to carry on each day without their loved ones or with life-changing injuries or with the PTSD associated with that event three years ago. They too got life without parole. Orwell was right. You cannot make murder respectable.

Comfort for Aurora

Remembering the Victims

“In the hope that it may be no intrusion upon the sacredness of your sorrow, I have ventured to address you this tribute to the memory of my young friend, and your brave and early fallen child.” Abraham Lincoln, May 25, 1861 in a letter of condolence to the parents of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth

I did not know Jessica Ghawi, Alex Teves, Alex Sullivan or any of the other nine victims murdered in the horrific July 20, 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” I do not know any of the 70 people who were injured that night and survived. But as an advocate for gun violence prevention, Jessica, Alex, Alex and many others have become my (forever young) friends. It is because of them that we work for a safer future so others are not sacrificed on America’s insane firearms alters.

The trial for the monster responsible for this all too familiar, American-centric, gun-related carnage is underway in Colorado and I find there is no way to accurately or compassionately convey my love to the survivors, their families, or the families of those murdered without sounding as if I can possibly understand their grief, pain, suffering, loss, anger… even this list seems somehow presumptuous. To those strong enough and compelled to attend the daily court proceedings, this list of presumptions must also include: the ability to sit in the same room with such a monster, knowing that he is attempting to “game” the jurisprudence of Colorado with his “superior” intellect, and the self-control and commitment to a civilized society not to throttle him when he lifts his veil of innocence whenever the jury is not in chambers. Cameras are everywhere.

It is, therefore, ironic that I find the most reflective and appropriate comments in the haunting words of one who would himself later become the victim of gun violence. In a letter dated Nov. 21, 1864, President Lincoln wrote to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a mother who it was believed had lost five sons in the Civil War. He wrote:

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. 

And so, with these borrowed words, please let the victims and their families know that I am thinking of them, grieve for them, honor their children and don’t presume to understand their pain. I haven’t the right words. Allow Lincoln’s to carry my comforts.

My Inspiration

Inspiration

 

Christopher Hitchens wrote, “To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: why not?” This little blog started as a way for me to scream into deaf space when news events or personal experiences left me no other options; when nothing could mute the chest-tightening anger and helplessness I felt; when, as Shakespeare wrote, I bothered to complain “and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.” And so, I write. My first malediction was two years ago today. However, they were not so much my words but a reposting of the words written 45 days earlier by a young woman in Colorado. She wrote of the events she experienced at the Eaton Mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012 when a gunman (sorry NRA, he was a gunman (whom I refuse to name), not a perpetrator with some random weapon) opened fire in the Urban Eatery Food Court. Five people were shot, two died. She began:

 “I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.”

She continued by showing how, in three minutes, a decision to go out into the rain saved her life.

 “My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rang out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.”

That eloquent, insightful young woman was named Jessica Redfield and she was murdered two years ago today in the theater shooting in Aurora, CO. She and eleven others were killed and 70 others were injured that horrible Friday night. She is gone, but she continues to inspire. CarlyMarieDudley Since that time, her mother and thousands of others, many accidental activists driven to act after the horrors visited upon Aurora, CO or Newtown, CT or Oak Creek, WI or Santa Barbara, CA or Washington, D.C. or Spring, TX or any of the other tragedies that take 30,000 people a year. They have started a movement that will not only change the face of America, but make it a safer nation. It will not happen quickly (nor soon enough), but it will happen. Initially only disjointed lamentations from thousands of individuals, they have begun to coalesce into a united voice, a voice determined to prevent the next tragedy, a voice which has a goal of Not One More.

Consider the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Begun in 1980 by one mother, Candy Lightner, after her 13 year old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunk driver, it has gone on to become a national institution in activism with over 600 chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. MADD has worked to enact zero tolerance legislation across the country, enacted 0.08 blood alcohol level laws nationally, is partially responsible for a 40% reduction in drunk driving attributed traffic deaths since 1982 and brought the term “designated driver” into the public lexicon.

Using MADD as a framework and appreciating the need to commit time, dedication, and effort for the long haul, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded the day after Sandy Hook. And if MADD felt hampered by the strong alcohol beverage lobby, Moms Demand Action knew they were up against the behemoth of all lobbyists, the NRA. When asked to explain their activism success, MADD provides a series of critical tenets, foremost among them having passionate, committed volunteers and putting a face on statistics. As MADD writes:

 “Before 1980, drunk driving deaths and injuries were spoken about in terms of cold, hard statistics—a tactic that was having little, if any, impact on reducing the number of deaths and injuries due to alcohol related crashes. But MADD didn’t speak of statistics. MADD spoke of loved ones, family members and friends—an intensely personal communication style that started with the organization’s charismatic founder and continues today. Every death, every injury is given a face, family and history— personalizing the issue so that everyone can relate, even those who have never experienced the tragedy of drunk driving.”

 Because statistics can be found to support almost any position, especially with the gun rights crowd continuing to fund discredited economist John Lott (or should we call him Mary Rosh?) and his specious data, we are reminded of the phrase attributed to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” To counter this, gun violence groups, like Moms Demand Action, have combined the top two pillars of successful activism, according to MADD, by having passionate volunteers share the stories behind the statistics. As shown by MADD, it is a formula for success and a roadmap showing not only what can be accomplished but how long the path may take. No matter, the determination of these activists knows no limit because their well of compassion has no bottom.

Moms Demand Action has also tried to harness the power of social media to not only get out its message, but to affect change. They have seen this strategy beget success. However, personally I have all but given up on Twitter as a means of communicating having lost interest in attempting to conduct a rationale discourse with people responding in 140 character bursts of bizarre thought. More often than not, I find myself descending into a miasma with some troll and their obtuse paranoia and misogynistic vitriol into a spiraling Dante-esque hell with no Beatrice to lead me out. There is never any discourse (or room for movement) and the inevitable name calling is wholly a waste of time. So, too, it is with so many of the comment sections of news websites and Facebook pages. What begins as a thoughtful comment soon falls victim to the lowest common denominator of society, the base, violent name calling and misspelled threats. I can’t imagine the mail received at the White House.

Politicians understand polls and chase donations. To acknowledge this is to understand the rules required to bring about societal change. While a new Quinnipiac poll shows 92% of voters support requiring background checks for all gun purchases (including 92% of gun owners) and 89% of voters support preventing people with severe mental illnesses from purchasing guns (including 91% of gun owners) this poll also shows that words matter. Assistant Director, Tim Malloy stated of the poll,

 “Americans are all in on stricter background checks on gun buyers and on keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill. But when it comes to ‘stricter gun control,’ three words which prompt a negative reflex, almost half of those surveyed say ‘hands off.'”

In a fascinating series of articles in Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson wrote of 7 (not-so-easy) steps to beat the NRA. To me, most importantly (and something about which I have previously written) is the need to assimilate the various gun violence prevention groups into a unified voice capable, in terms of membership and funding, to compete on Capital Hill, in state politics, against the gun lobby and for the conscience of the public. This has now begun to happen. Recently, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have come together under the Michael Bloomberg funded umbrella Everytown for Gun Safety. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun ViolenceAmericans for Responsible Solutions, the Newtown Action Alliance and others, including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and It Can Happen Here continue their important work independently. There are economies of scale available to this movement which may be necessary to influence elected officials. It is unfortunate, but money talks in Washington and in state houses across America. It is a tactic successfully used by the gun lobby for decades and a resolution gun violence prevention groups must embrace.

Words matter. We are castigated for using the term magazine when we mean clip (or vice versa) and are constantly asked to define “assault rifle” (as if we invented it and it were not a term gun makers created so the average Joe could pretend he was G.I. Joe). Words matter, but so too can they inspire! Jessica Redfield continued in her post saying

“I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening. I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.”

Every hug from a family member is precious. So tune out the static of the conspiracy theorists, the angry trolls, the paranoid “patriots,” the delusions of the “false flag” crowd,  and the AM radio troglodytes. Instead, read as much as you can. Learn the subtle nuances of these issues and find the inspiration left to us by others. A cruise ship steaming at full speed will take over half a mile to stop after the engines have been reversed. But it will stop. So, too, will we change America and in the process, save lives. Over these past two years I have met some amazing people. People who would rather be doing other things with their lives but who have had their futures permanently altered by gun violence. Visit these pages for more information on how you can remember the events of two years ago today and, perhaps, find your inspiration:

Jessica Redfield Ghawi Foundation Scholarship Fund

ACT Foundation – Alexander C Teves Foundation

Alex Sullivan Fund

Although I never met her, Jessica continues to inspire me.

Year One

blog

I started this blog one year ago tomorrow. Not that I expected anybody to read it, but as a way for me to pour burning liquid emotion onto my keyboard in hopes of having it coalesce on the screen into something resembling understanding, logic or rationality in order for me to carry on. All too often, I have failed.

My first post was simply a reposting of a blog entry made by Jessica Redfield who had escaped a mass shooting at the Eaton Center in Toronto. She had posted it on June 5th. One year ago tonight, she was one of twelve murdered and 58 wounded at the Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Here, frozen forever, is her last Twitter post:

JessicaRedfield Twitter

Having been cast to live in Texas as a result of the world-class medical facilities at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and seeing them as the best chance we had to fight my wife’s rare and aggressive breast cancer, I had become increasingly angry at the cavalier attitude Texans have with their guns. The “Come and Take It” crowd, most of them displaying Zimmerman-like bravado (when armed with a firearm), hiding anatomic shortcomings (if shoe size is a true indicator and not some urban legend) and compensating by driving the tallest, most ridiculous looking monster-trucks legal to drive on public roads.  The shooting in Aurora drove me to write. It was a cathartic exercise.

Mixed with equal parts sarcasm, anger, depression and pomposity, I put down in words my boiling rage. A few comments popped up, although in the vast universe of the internet I have no idea how these people tripped over my little blog. And so it went. Until December 14th.

I was sitting at the hospital while my wife was being restaged when the first news reports began to flash about a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. A shooting at an elementary school will be very traumatic for the children, I thought, assuming that the victim(s) would be adults involved in a deadly dispute of some kind. Slowly the details emerged. Children were among the victims and their numbers kept climbing. Like most of the world, I read the reports in disbelief, hoping for a clarification from the news outlets of a terrible mistake. Instead, the numbers continued to climb. More children were injured; more children were among the dead.  Like many other dates that are seared into our collective consciousness, I will never forget where I was when I heard the news. My wife and I made the hour drive home from the hospital that evening, although I cannot remember actually steering the car. That night, I shook.

The next day I told my wife that I needed to do something, anything to try to change the world in which I had sentenced my children to live. I was ashamed for my previous inaction and tacit acceptance of gun violence; I was ashamed for the country. The rest of the world looked upon America as a land populated by blood-thirsty renegades armed better than Dirty Harry with a fuse shorter than a Bruce Willis’s hair. Surely, after this mind-skewing, paradigm shift, Washington would act responsibly? Americans would demand it! Politicians would push and shove their way to the front of the line to co-sign responsible gun legislation! Unaware of any grassroots organizations and devoid of any previous political activism, I reached out to the one group I knew with a history of fighting the gun lobby, the Brady Campaign.

“I haven’t had a representative in the Houston area for three years,” said the head of the Texas Brady chapter. Roll that around in your head for a second. Houston is the country’s fourth largest city with a population of over 2 million people and the Brady Campaign has no local chapter? Hell, Connecticut has three!

And yet, in spite of my newly embraced activism, it all still seemed a little remote. I could still only partially allow myself to invite in the nightmare of what it would have been like if it had been my children. Emotionally, as a parent, as a human, it was a door I was only willing to open a crack, lest the devastating emotion behind it drown me. That all changed on a conference call.

The head of the Texas chapter of the Brady Campaign invited me to participate in a call with hundreds of other members and a guest speaker. It was scheduled for Monday, January 7th at 5:00. Because I was still at work, I stayed late and joined the call already in progress. There was a woman speaking with intimate knowledge of the shooting in Aurora. I listened intently, but removed and muted. However, as I listened, I began to piece together who the speaker was. At the moment my mind made the connection, she spoke the words that will forever haunt me. It was Jessica Redfield’s mother, and she was describing, in vivid detail, the events of that night and how, where and why her daughter had been murdered. I could no longer prevent that nightmarish door from opening. Jessica Redfield’s mother was telling me how that door had been ripped from its hinges and cast into space. Suddenly, it was all very real. I had come full circle. What I had started in July as an angry blog by simply cutting and pasting an entry from a theater shooting victim had brought me to listening to the mother of that same victim on a January night. Surreal. Emotional. Devastating. Goose bumps. Real.

I assumed I would write a few articles and make a few calls on behalf of the Brady Campaign. However, soon, word spread and I was being asked to speak at local area democratic clubs. Then I was asked to debate a state representative on a local PBS television program. (The Tea Party twit backed out at the last minute!) Immediately, armed with logic, a rational ethos and compassion, my inner Toby Ziegler/Josh Lyman/Josiah Bartlet took over. I carried photos of the Sandy Hook victims in my wallet. My speech ballooned to 45 minutes. I was able to scan the crowd, in front of whom I was soon to speak, and pick out the planted RWNJ’s itching to ask me to define an assault weapon. It became my personal goal to piss off at least one person in the crowd at each speech, although living in Texas, that was not a lofty challenge. Panel discussions followed and more speeches.

But soon, I found that while the name “Brady Campaign” got me in the door to speak, they did little else locally. I believe the Brady Campaign in Washington continues to do wonderful things standing up to the vitriol of the NRA and battling in state legislatures across the country. However, I needed to belong to something at the local level. What I found was my gender shutting me out of the most amazing group of people I had met in this fight.

It seemed that whenever I was asked to speak, so too was a rotating posse of equally exorcised and like-minded members of the Houston chapter of the newly formed Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, or just Moms Demand Action. These women were phenomenal. Educated, passionate and ready to go toe-to-toe with any gun rights wing nut, this group of similarly accidental activists bolstered my spirits and strengthened my resolve. Fuck not with a mama bear protecting her cubs, lest you unleash her limitless wrath. Enrage 100,000 of them and I pity the NRA. In short, they were the grassroots organization I longed for. I longed to be an “honorary Mom.”

We saw each other everywhere. From speech to speech, there they were. They were on-stage at a rally on the steps of the state capitol in Austin where I managed to get into a verbal confrontation with a RWNJ who tried to crash the proceedings (with his young grandson in tow). They were at a protest outside the Houston-hosted, annual paranoia jamboree (officially known as the NRA Annual Conference) where, again, I got to piss off a different RWNJ. It was there that I saw Neil Heslin, father of Jesse Lewis. Jesse was just one of the 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook. I stood ten feet from Mr. Heslin and wanted to speak to him, but my brain could conceive of no combination of words that could pacify him or rally him. What could I say that didn’t sound shallow, condescending or meaningless?  His eyes conveyed a pain, a hollowness that seemed to match the emptiness he must have felt inside, an ember and ash hole where his heart had once lived, a void which Jesse once filled.  I also saw Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hocksprung, principal of Sandy Hook and one of the first killed on that still inconceivable day. Ms. Lafferty had the same look of pain, but also a sense of fury behind her eyes that I wanted to bottle. And the Moms were there at a press conference with United States Representative Sheila Jackson Lee outside the Rothko Chapel commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and beseeching the Senate not to filibuster the Manchin-Toomey amendment. This was a cause with character (and characters). I was not alone in this. There were now faces and voices with which I could bond.

And so, it has been one year since Aurora and 217 days since Newtown. The challenges that lie before us are still all there. Washington is still lethargic and paralyzed. The Texas legislature has passed 14 laws weakening gun laws. Countless assault rifles have been sold to those paranoid “patriots” convinced that the president will come knocking on their door to confiscate their guns. And the American public, with their fruit fly length memory and fickle attention span have moved on to other more current atrocities, shifting their outrage to a new target, resigned to the fact that their demand for gun control legislation (within the confines of our instant gratification society) was not fulfilled.

 Brady Fact Sheet

It has been one year since Aurora. One year, but for me, this is only Year One. We haven’t done enough. But we are not alone and we are not dissuaded. In a country awash in guns, there will be another mass shooting. Americans will again display their transient outrage and, maybe, Washington will listen. It is a long road through an unfair and uneven process, but change will come. We will be here fighting for those who cannot. And when change does come, ask yourself, “What did I do?” Let this be your Year One.

Cut!

Movie Board

Action!

“Captain,” said the Chief Engineer in the third bulkhead of Titanic, standing in eighteen inches of north Atlantic ice water, a mere ten minutes after her hull was shredded by the unseen iceberg, “we’re taking on water! What do you want us to do?”

“Take on more water!” replied Captain Smith.

CUT! Wait.  That’s not what happened. That would be stupid.

And…ACTION!

“Stand back you people,” said the Second Officer, pointing his revolver at the crowd surging toward the remaining life boats, “I will shoot the next man to rush forward.”

“No you won’t,” bellowed John Jacob Astor IV, pushing his way toward the front of the crowd. All at once, every member of the crowd cocked back the hammers of their pistols.  Suddenly, the ship righted itself, the gash in her side healed and she maintained her top speed through iceberg-pocked waters toward New York.

CUT! That’s even dumber than before.  That didn’t happen.

Take it from the top. And… ACTION!

“Iceberg, straight ahead!” the hypothermic lookout cried, perched in the crow’s nest high above the gleaming wooden deck below.

“Be calm, my son,” said Jesus, who was standing next to him. And with a wave of his hand, the iceberg melted away and no harm ever befell any of the passengers. They all lived happily ever after and God called them home after a long life and with no pain or suffering.

CUT!  What’s going on here? None of that happened! The ship hit the iceberg, panic ensued, the ship sank and 1,514 people died horrifically painful deaths.

Ah, but there’s the problem.  We’ve all become victims of subscribing to a Hollywood script.  We all believe that we’re at various stages on our own hero’s journey and that everything will end with a storybook ending amidst a symphonic crescendo playing in the background. We die, roll credits.

Reality knows no script.  Reality kicks you in the teeth, waits for you to shake it off, then kicks you in the nuts when your head clears, then hands you a bouquet of roses.  No rhyme, no reason. That’s life! And to presume that there is some cosmic game plan in which you feature in a starring role is both delusional and dangerous. My son’s philosophy professor, Galen Strawson wrote Against Narrativity in 2004. To read it is to appreciate the danger our civilization faces living in this miasma.

2012 in America has been ruled by the gun.  We’ve seen 13 mass shootings this year alone. If we were “stunned” on February 21st at the shooting in Norcross, GA, where four people were killed, plus the shooter, we looked away. If we were “aghast” on February 27th at the shooting in Chardon, OH where three were killed and another two injured, we barely stirred. If we were “upset” on March 8th at the shooting in Pittsburgh, PA where one was killed, plus the shooter and seven were injured, we looked down. If we were “angry” on April 2 at the shooting in Oakland, CA where seven were killed and three injured, we mumbled. If we were “disappointed” on April 6th at the shooting in Tulsa, OK where three were killed and two were injured, we barely noticed. If we were “caught off-guard” on May 30th at the shooting in Seattle, WA, where five were killed, plus the shooter and one more was injured, we changed the channel.  If we were “outraged” on July 20th at the shooting in Aurora, CO, where twelve were killed and fifty-eight were injured, we clicked “Like” on Facebook to send a prayer. If we were “distressed” on August 5th at the shooting in Oak Creek, WI, where six were killed, plus the shooter and three more were injured, we asked “why?” If we were “troubled” on August 13th at the shooting in College Station, TX, where two were killed, plus the shooter and four more were injured, we shook our heads.  If we were “disgusted” on September 27th at the shooting in Minneapolis, MN, where six were killed, plus the shooter and three more were injured, we turned the page. If we were “concerned” on October 21st at the shooting in Brookfield, WI, where three were killed, plus the shooter and four more were injured, we barely blinked. If we even noticed on December 11th the shooting in Happy Valley, OR, where two were killed, plus the shooter and another was injured, we kept quiet. But, if we were not apoplectically pissed-off and sick to our stomachs on December 14th at the shooting in Newtown, CT, where twenty-seven were killed, plus the shooter and an unknown number were injured, we deserve nothing better.

Ours is a society of instant gratification married to an inexplicable faith that when times get tough we can just throw our hands up in the air and assure ourselves that our future is in God’s hands. God will protect me.  This pursuit of gratification and surrendering to faith leads to a society that abdicates personal responsibility and any uncomfortable consequences of our actions.

The gun enthusiast espouses that if everybody had a gun, we would all be safe. If every moviegoer in Aurora had brought their popcorn butter glazed Glock with them, the shooter would have paid the price for threatening “civilized” society. In fact, almost every expert agrees that if there were more guns at the scene it would have erupted into a muzzle flash blinding shooting gallery of bullets exploding everywhere and more injuries and deaths. By this same logic, why don’t we pass out nuclear weapons to every country? Don’t I feel safe now!

Texas has proposed that allowing teachers to carry concealed guns will reduce the number of school shootings. Wrong! Also in Texas (surprise), a gun dealer is offering discounts for teachers! Our knee-jerk reaction to gun horror is always the same.  After Aurora, gun sales went up in Colorado.  Gun sales in Connecticut are up now, too.  “Take on more water,” said the Captain.

Our ship will not right itself, the gash in her side will not heal itself and God will not materialize and melt the iceberg.  We are responsible for our own actions and a required participant in the construction of society. To pass off responsibility to God or to a 200 year old, purposely vague document and its second amendment is to sail with our hands off the ship’s wheel and our eyes closed while we accelerate through the dangerous iceberg-laden waters of life. Who wants to sign up for that cruise? I’m tired of watching rational people rearrange the deckchairs while the ship goes down.

Now is the time to act. Now is the time for lucid voices to be heard. Damn the testosterone addled, myopically stunted gun zealots and the impotent, self-serving government representatives. Raise your voice, drown out the din of gunfire and demand civilization be civilized. If not us, who? If not now, when?

And… Action!

An Interview with James Madison

Published July 4, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thanks to Doc Brown, Marty McFly and time travel, James Madison was cryogenically preserved when he died in June of 1836 at the age of 84.  He was the last surviving Founding Father, considered the Father of the Constitution and author of the Bill of Rights.  Today, healthy and alive, he celebrates his first “second” birthday, having been reborn on July 4, 2011.  We sat down at the Off the Record bar in the Hay-Adams Hotel here in Washington to discuss what he thinks of the political experiment he helped craft over 220 years ago.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

First of all Mr. President, let me thank you for taking the time to meet with me and to wish you a very happy first birthday.

Madison:

Thank you, although I must say, I feel rather like the 261 year old I really am!

ThoughtsAtLarge:

Well, I can only hope to look as good as you at 261, if you don’t mind my saying so, Mr. President.

Madison:                  

Very kind of you to say.

ThoughtsAtLarge:          

Mr. President, as one of the original architects of the American democracy, how do you think it has performed?  And as a follow-up, is it what you had envisioned it maturing into?

Madison:          

Let me first qualify your statement.  Yes, I was one of the people involved in the formation of the government, although, you must understand two things straight away. First, most of us were very young and the times were very uncertain.  I, myself, was only 26!  Second, we consciously created a republic, not a democracy.  The distinction is worth noting.  But to answer your question, I am generally pleased with how it has withstood time, although, it was intended to be more fluid than it has been interpreted.  For example, the three-fifths compromise as written in the Constitution seems both offensive and silly today.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

You are talking about Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 which states:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

Madison:

Yes, that was a compromise between the northern and southern states regarding slavery.
But the 13th and 14th Amendments rendered that clause moot, thankfully!

ThoughtsAtLarge:

You were originally a Federalist, or a proponent of a strong central government, but ended up changing to a Democratic-Republican, in favor of strong state’s rights.  Why the change?

Madison:               

Well, you have to understand that, at the time, there was no sense in having strong state’s rights without a strong central government.  However, once that was achieved, we could turn our attention to assuring the ability of individual states to control their own destiny.  Certain concepts lend themselves better to an overarching unanimity, while others can be subject to a more regional interpretation. 

ThoughtsAtLarge:

It is ironic that as the chief author of the Bill of Rights, you were originally against having them at all!

Madison:  

That’s correct!  I didn’t think they were necessary.  I also worried that by delineating specific rights, others, not delineated would not be protected.

ThoughtsAtLarge: 

There are now 27 ratified amendments to the Constitution.  Doesn’t that speak to your desire to have the government’s framework remain fluid?

Madison:     

To a degree, yes, although it was not our intention to have future Supreme Courts attempt
to opine on our intentions in 1789 without taking into consideration society today.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

Can you give us an example?

Madison:         

Of course, the First Amendment never foresaw radio, television, the internet, and iPhones, Fox News, MSNBC or CNN.  The Second Amendment never foresaw any firearm more powerful than a single shot musket or the rise of the United States military to be the most powerful in the history of mankind. 

ThoughtsAtLarge:

It’s ironic you should mention the Second Amendment.  You were a strong proponent of protecting the citizenry’s ability to bear arms.

Madison:                     

Yes, I was, but, again, times were very different.  Our concerns revolved around foreign invasion and insurrection rather than a federal government evolving into a tyrannical dictator.  After all, it was the government we created!  We certainly never foresaw the awesome firepower now available to our citizens.  Remember, it was within the confines of a well-regulated militia that this amendment was conceived.  Today, it has been interpreted to mean that virtually any and all manner of firearm is available to our citizens.  I have read the gruesome accounts of mass murder committed by citizens with access to unbelievably powerful weapons.  Indeed, every day there are firearm murders, suicides and accidents committed under the auspices of my amendment.  This sickens
me!  Our government has evolved over time.  So too, must the Constitution, including the Amendments!  Common sense!  Where is the common sense?

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

So you would be open to changing the Amendment?

Madison:                    

Times change, sir, and so too must law.

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

I see our time has expired, Mr. President.  I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me to discuss your unique perspective on our government.  May I ask what your upcoming plans are?  Given the changes to which you must be adapting, I am curious to hear your plans.

Madison:        

I have relatives, descendants really, that live out west, far beyond what I knew as “west”!  I am traveling on my first airplane later this month and meeting with them.  I am also fascinated by the cinema.  My, let’s see if I can get this correct, great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter wants to see the new Batman movie.  I am very much looking forward to it!

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

That’s lovely.  Where does she live?

Madison:           

Aurora, Colorado.

Awful Events Today

Jessica Redfield was one of the victims killed in the shooting today in Aurora, Colorado.  Below is a blog entry she posted on June 5th.  Awful events today.

Late Night Thoughts on the Eaton Center Shooting

I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.

 

What started off as a trip to the mall to get sushi and shop, ended up as a day that has forever changed my life. I was on a mission to eat sushi that day, and when I’m on a mission, nothing will deter me. When I arrived at the Eaton Center mall, I walked down to the food court and spotted a sushi restaurant. Instead of walking in, sitting down and enjoying sushi, I changed my mind, which is very unlike me, and decided that a greasy burger and poutine would do the trick. I rushed through my dinner. I found out after seeing a map of the scene, that minutes later a man was standing in the same spot I just ate at and opened fire in the food court full of people. Had I had sushi, I would’ve been in the same place where one of the victims was found.

 

My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rung out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.

 

I walked around the outside of the mall. People started funneling out of every exit. When I got back to the front, I saw a police car, an ambulance, and a fire truck. I initially thought that maybe the street performer that was drumming there earlier had a heart attack or something. But more and more police officers, ambulances, and fire trucks started showing up. Something terrible has happened. I overheard a panicked guy say, “There was a shooting in the food court.” I thought that there was no way, I was just down there. I asked him what happened. He said “Some guy just opened fire. Shot about 8 shots. It sounded like balloons popping. The guy is still on the loose.” I’m not sure what made me stick around at this point instead of running as far away from the mall as possible. Shock? Curiosity? Human nature? Who knows.

 

Standing there in the midst of the chaos all around us, police started yelling to get back and make room. I saw a young shirtless boy, writhing on a stretcher, with his face and head covered by the EMS as they rushed him by us to get him into an ambulance. The moment was surprisingly calm. The EMTs helping the boy weren’t yelling orders and no one was screaming like a night time medical drama. It was as if it was one swift movement to get the boy out of the mall and into the ambulance. That’s when it really hit me. I felt nauseas. Who would go into a mall full of thousands of innocent people and open fire? Is this really the world we live in?

 

Police start yelling again “GET BACK NOW!” Another stretcher came rushing out of the mall. I saw a man on a stretcher, the blanket underneath him spotted with blood. Multiple gunshot holes in his chest, side, and neck were visible. It’s not like in the movies when you see someone shot and they’re bleeding continuously from the wound. There was no blood flowing from the wounds, I could only see the holes. Numerous gaping holes, as if his skin was putty and someone stuck their finger in it. Except these wounds were caused by bullets. Bullets shot out of hatred. His dark skin on his torso was tinted red with what I assume was his own blood. He was rushed into the ambulance and taken away.

 

More people joined the crowd at the scene and asked what happened. “There was a shooting in the food court,” kept being whispered through the crowd like a game of telephone. I was standing near a security guard when I heard him say over his walkie talkie, “One fatality.” At this point I was convinced I was going to throw up. I’m not an EMT or a police officer. I’m not trained to handle crime and murder. Gun crimes are fairly common where I grew up in Texas, but I never imagined I’d experience a violent crime first hand. I’m on vacation and wanted to eat and go shopping. Everyone else at the mall probably wanted the same thing. I doubt anyone left for the mall imagined they witness a shooting.

 

I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.

 

I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.

 

I feel like I am overreacting about what I experienced. But I can’t help but be thankful for whatever caused me to make the choices that I made that day. My mind keeps replaying what I saw over in my head. I hope the victims make a full recovery. I wish I could shake this odd feeling from my chest. The feeling that’s reminding me how blessed I am. The same feeling that made me leave the Eaton Center. The feeling that may have potentially saved my life.