Today’s slaughter at an elementary school in Texas is an act of evil beyond the scope of most of us, myself included, to fully absorb. I know no particulars of this latest mass shooting. I confess I felt no point in doing so. I saw the headline and kept scrolling. Allow me to be crystal clear: what I’m going to write in terms of sorrow is a small cup of water compared to the ocean of grief the victims’ families are feeling. What I’m going to talk about is my relative lack of grief.
Let me rephrase: I feel terrible grief. Let me rephrase once more: I think terrible grief, which is to say I recoil at this satanic malevolence, but I find myself doing so only in a theoretical, and if I’m honest, performative way. I feel, and I’m ashamed to admit this, virtually nothing.
I mean, that’s not entirely true: I’m very angry at myself for not feeling anything. I know it is a stark sign that my basic humanity has been diminished by years of this unspeakable, unremitting, seemingly unbreakable pattern of gun violence in America.
I, nor anyone in my life, have ever been a direct victim of these mass attacks (A woman I knew in college was murdered a few years ago, and I felt – I still feel – grief about that, even though we hadn’t seen each other in decades). But each slaughter that chips away at my humanity has created a thicket of scars around what I will refer to, for lack of a more exact term, soul. And these scars have left me largely numb.
Josef Stalin once said one death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are a statistic. I’m not a big one for quoting Stalin, but he had a point. I think the breaking point for me was Sandy Hook. Once we apparently decided as a society that murdering young children was bad, but a price we have to be willing to pay to keep our guns, I checked out. Not consciously, but something in me became deadened. My capacity for empathy has continued to be quietly shaved away, sliver by sliver, with each subsequent shooting.
I was a bit too cynical in that paragraph. It’s not that most Americans feel that way. Most Americans – including a majority of NRA members – are in favor of some gun reform. But the NRA, and its allied lobbyists don’t care. They and every politician who takes their money has blood on their hands, their arms, over every inch of their polluted selves. And although most Americans want gun reform, they don’t want it enough for it to be an issue they will base their votes on.
This is a sickness that’s infected all of us. And like many fatal diseases, it is so quiet and insidious that we don’t realize it’s become an inextricable part of us until it’s too late to do much about it.
Once again, my (and I suspect many others) existential crisis is a universe of magnitude away in severity from the grief families in Texas are suffering tonight. Or Buffalo last week. Or over 200 communities in 2022 alone. That’s correct: over 200 this year. And we’re in May.
What I feel – or, more accurately, fail to feel – is the result of residual trauma that’s become an ambient, barely perceptible distorted noise in the back of every American’s head.
I’m not trying to be glib, but mass killings in America have become a bit like living near train tracks. The trains routinely rumble past, but we are so used to it, we stop noticing them after a while.
It shouldn’t be like this. None of this should be like this. All of this is awful beyond words. There ought to be a word for how useless words are. And when the only visceral outrage about today’s news I can muster is at my lack of outrage, something simple and fundamental about me, about my ability, my right to be fully human, has been eradicated. It’s a shame there’s no cynical, murderous lobby to protect that constitutional right. That doesn’t give me an excuse to stop trying.
But my God, America, with its leaders brimming with thoughts and prayers, makes it one hell of a steep climb.