Are We Gonna Be OK?
A frustratingly rhetorical question in the NRA’s America
When I was 19, I was in a very scary but ultimately harmless car accident. I had been camping with some buddies in the mountains in northeastern Oregon, and we were driving home on a long, windy, gravel road that overlooked a massive canyon when suddenly our car jerked off the road, rolled once, and then slammed into a tree. The car was totaled and I broke 3 ribs but I walked away relatively unscathed in the grand scheme of things. We got a new car, my ribs healed, and life kept moving.
But it almost didn’t. When I tell the story, I usually say, “we hit a bad chunk of gravel,” but I can’t definitively say if that’s true or not. The car had been overheating so maybe there was a bigger problem somewhere; or maybe I misjudged a turn; or maybe we really can blame the gravel, but to be honest, the how and why of it have sort of faded from memory.
The part that sticks, however, is the tree because it really had no business being there. The hill was rocky and barren; one of those dry, gray, windless landscapes that makes you feel like you’re on a different planet. Trees do not grow there. I would wager that there wasn’t another tree for a mile in either direction. But inexplicably, miraculously, one tree sprouted, survived, grew and then caught us as we rolled toward the canyon.
I’m 38 now, which means that the accident happened at the exact midpoint of my life thus far. At 19, the tree caught a young kid with great parents and a bright future. At 38, I realize that the tree also caught my graduation; my first job; my first house; my fascinating, foxy wife; my precocious, perfect three-year old girl; and my beautiful, brilliant six-year old boy. I couldn’t see them, but those moments and those people were all in the car with me.
The preceding four paragraphs might appear to contradict this next point, but to be completely candid, I don’t think about that accident very often. Or, perhaps said a better way, I don’t allow myself to think about it very often. I have a black belt in compartmentalizing. My brain is made up of hundreds of little doors. The dark ones, the ones shoved in the farthest, most remote corner and have names like fear, failure and death are locked extremely tight and very rarely opened. But sometimes, even with the strongest locks I can think of, and the whole weight of me pressed against them, they burst open and I’m sucked inside. I’m in there now because I was in Vegas on Sunday night.
I was at the Venetian, which is about as far away as you can get from the Mandalay Bay. And because I’m old and was flying back and going straight to work the next day, I was already in bed, which is the literal antithesis of being at a big concert, or partying at a casino. So I wasn't there…but I was there.
Two years ago, my wife was in Paris during the attack at the Bataclan. She was much, much closer to that event — 1,148 feet away in fact — and was in much more immediate danger, but the connection is eerie and wholly unnerving. Two of the most horrific events of the past few years, and my wife is eating dinner near one and I’m staying near the other?
The glass-half-full version of this is that we have guardian angels looking after us and keeping us safe. The darker version is that Death is after us and just hasn’t been able to catch us yet. And while I may not believe in Divine Destiny, and only sorta kinda maybe believe in fate, rational thought doesn’t come with you when you get sucked inside the door. It’s just me and my fear and I’m terrified. I’m scared that someone I love is going to die. And the weight of this fear has me pinned to the floor.
Vegas + Paris + The Tree is plenty, but there’s more thanks to a world where people get murdered on a seemingly hourly basis and a government that is unable, or worse, not incentivized, to stop it. The fear and the dread and the doubt are exacerbated exponentially by a proven futility of action. Sandy Hook happened and nothing. Pulse happened and nothing. San Bernardino happened and nothing. Virginia Tech happened and nothing. Why would Vegas be any different?
Who is going to protect us? What systems, what solutions are being put in in place is to guarantee that our kids won’t be the next victims? Where is safe?
At this point, the Vegas massacre, and the gun control debate, and the harrowing silence of our elected officials have all been dissected and dismembered by many people much smarter than me, but please allow me a few thoughts:
Stop Saying His Name
Let’s talk about the victims. Let’s hear their stories, who they were and who they left behind. Let’s talk about gun control and highlight the recent voting records and campaign-contribution histories of the people in power. Let’s tell people how they can help and where they can donate. And more than anything, let’s all agree that his name, his story and his motivations are absolutely inconsequential. Who, and why and when will not bring one life back and will not save a future one. If those things drive views and clicks then change the narrative. Be thinking, feeling human beings and recognize that what we do, and what we say here matters. If you are profiting from this then you are culpable for the next. Stop saying his name, CNN. Stop saying his name, Fox. Block his name from Twitter, and Facebook and every other platform we have. Stop. Stop. Stop.
Morally Bankrupt Bingo
New massacre, same script. “Our thoughts and prayers are with (fill in the blank city).” Check. “What’s important is that we unite and heal as a country.” Check again. “Now is not the time to talk about gun control. Let’s focus on the victims and not politicize this.” Bingo. The initial question here is “when?” — as in: when exactly is the right time to have a gun control discussion? But for me, the more pressing/annoying question is “who?” — as in: who decided that our legislators and their lackeys are the arbiter of this timetable? I’d be willing to bet anything that the great majority of the families affected this week are ready to have the conversation, so why do people like Sarah Sanders get to decide?
So What’s the Plan?
Let’s pretend for a moment that we don’t need, or won’t ultimately benefit from gun control. Grab a barf bag and let’s jump inside the NRA’s narrative for a minute. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The answer to gun violence is a better-armed citizenry. If we implement even a modicum of gun restriction then we set off a chain reaction where the murderers and rapists and religious extremists take over and we plunge into a second dark age. OK. Sure. I’m throwing up in my mouth a little but I’m still listening. But what’s the plan to stop mass shootings? Show me that. We’ll spot you unrestricted access to whatever guns you want if you can show us the plan to reduce these massacres, reduce suicide, reduce domestic violence, and reduce the number of parents of first graders that are terrified to send their kids to school. Show us the numbers. Walk us through the strategy. And leave the 2nd amendment aside. Your shield is impenetrable, you’ve proven that. But what’s the plan?
We’ll Literally Take Anything
You know the old proverb about if someone has been walking for a week in the desert they will pay anything for water? That’s where we are with guns and gun control. The NRA has held steadfast in the wake of massacre after massacre because its stance is that even the slightest bit of regulation will open the door for more and more and more. Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of Americans are dying because the NRA is afraid of a slippery slope. But here’s the thing, we are so desperate for water that we’d pay anything at this point. We don’t care. Make this as crazy as you want but just give us something. Let’s ban automatic rifles, high-capacity clips, and armor piercing bullets, and in turn, we’ll promise that the only way to ban handguns and rifles is if a 95-foot alien performs fellatio on a giraffe. Cool? No alien, no fellatio, and we can’t come for your guns. 50 years from now, we’ll look back and say “an alien sucking off a giraffe? Huh?” But who cares? Just give us some water. We will pay whatever you want.
I purposefully left the victims off that list because, like most of us, I’m completely unprepared and unqualified to comment. I’ve been totally lost this week yet I’m fine. I’m home with my wife and kids. I went to the gym. Had a vodka. Looked at my fantasy team. Tried Florentine chicken soup. Other than the 350-pound weight on my chest this week has been like a lot of others.
Remember that great line near the end of Shawshank: “Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want to.” I can’t even imagine the pain those families and friends and coworkers and neighbors are feeling. My brain and my heart just can’t bend that far. Or maybe I just don’t want them to.
Because in a strange way, I should be thankful for my fear. It means I have a lot. A lot of love; a lot of life left to experience and enjoy. Fear, the type of fear that has been stabbing at my insides this week like I swallowed a porcupine, can only come from being overwhelmed by love. And I am. Everyday. And so maybe fear is just your blessing’s shadow. And realizing what you have, being thankful for it, particularly with so many people losing so much, will create a map that gets you outside of the dark doors and back to the good ones.
I’m so sorry for your losses. I don’t really pray, but I will hug my beautiful ones and think about yours.