Thoughts on Uvalde
[I had something else cued up for today, but I don’t think I can stick with the plan in light of the news.]
It’s too early to be writing about this. That’s my feeling right now.
Too early. Too early to talk about something this horrible. Too easy to speak without reflection, without sufficient consideration of the right words, the right tone. Too early.
And yet I’m doing it now because I haven’t thought about anything else since I heard the news yesterday.
As soon as I heard, I was right back in mid-December 2012, when I heard the news of Sandy Hook while waiting with my then first grader (the same age as many of the kids who were murdered that day in their elementary school by a psychopath) for her bus.
Immediately too the fall of 2006 came back into my head, when that first grader was in just her second year on the planet and ten little girls in an Amish school two hours from our house were methodically shot in the head by another evil lunatic.
The utter predictability of such atrocities in contemporary America is only equaled by the certainty of the knee-jerk partisanship and vicious mudslinging political fighting they inevitably produce among too many of us. I have had some time as a partisan on this issue, and I regret to say that I was too often just as depressingly eager to inject overly certain political opinions and moral denunciations of those who disagreed with me into the public sphere in the aftermath of mass murders.
It is natural to respond to such things with what we believe—or hope—to be certainties. With assertions of what must be true, and of what will inevitably make things better and ensure that things like this do not happen again.
This happens on all sides. Some are driven by the horror to the impulse to do something. Something. Anything. Anything to make this go away, to stop this kind of thing from happening, to make time run backward and to bring those kids back to life and prevent this awful, awful thing from happening.
Others oppose the proposed actions of this first group, but assert their own certainties about how to master events just as assuredly.
This is all perfectly natural. We would not be human if we did not have the impulse to react this way, to want to grasp on to clarity and mastery in times of total chaos and the revelation of how little power we have to prevent the manifestation of depraved, monstrous evil.
I have thought a fair amount about the political philosophical, constitutional, policy, social science, and moral angles to gun violence. Certainly less than some, but much more than most, I think it is fair to say. I have debated with folks on both the left and the right, myself occupying various positions on either side over the past two decades, confidently competent in supporting whatever position I happened to be in at the moment with data and argument, as per my professional training and personal inclination.
But I’m not going to get into any of those arguments today.
Maybe later, when I think it might be appropriate. But not today.
I hope that’s not seen as a deflection, or an attempt to play sides (since it is at least arguable that one side in the debate has a demonstrably greater tendency to want not to talk about specifics in the immediate aftermath, perhaps for rhetorical reasons, perhaps because of a real sense that it’s not the time). It is not at all my intention to naturalize what has happened, though it is true that the deaths of children did not begin yesterday and that we have been facing that most dreadful of events for as long as we have been here.
My refusal to talk politically about what happened is motivated by a commitment to those children and those who love them, none of whom I know, but whose grief is in at least some tempered way known to me because I have children and I know what the love a parent has for a child is and I have sometimes thought that most terrible thing parents, despite themselves, will sometimes be led by the intensity of their love to think: My God, what if my child were to be taken from me?
Today I just want to express my utter incomprehension at the idea that someone of my species can get to the point in life when it seems to make sense to do something like this. I can’t understand it. I admit I am almost certainly less motivated to try than I should be. It’s just that all my energy in such times goes to those innocents. Beings who do such things remove themselves from that category and from the claim on my compassion. I want only to do what I can to contribute to the project of protecting all of us as much as we can be protected against such beings and such acts. If there is understanding of them to be had, that must come later.
I want to use my chosen craft to give myself some spiritual space in which to try to sublimate the rage and the despair I’m feeling into something of some potential utility. To perhaps bring some of you along with me in this quest to find a way to approach this unapproachable reality.
Perhaps not to make sense of it, as it may elude sense.
And not to avoid it, or to habituate to it, or harden myself to it. Certainly not that.
But to find a way to do what I must do and what all of us still here must do, even those people for whom I feel infinite compassion at present because they will never see their children again: to go on, as we must, and to do so with love in our hearts.
However impossible it may seem to do that right now.
Music is, among its many other functions, a tool for processing grief, at least in my own experience. It is closer to the reality of the world, in the view of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, than all the evidence our senses give us of that world during most of our waking lives. I find it invaluable in moments like this, as in all the other moments of my existence.
Here are two pieces I’ve been listening to today to try to grapple with the enormity of all of this.
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