We wait for the other shoe to drop. College kids, movie goers, Bible study congregants, first graders, co-workers, Planned Parenthood patients. Next? A matter of time.
What shall we do until the news arrives?
We could curse those who insist safe means more weapons rather than none. Denouncing such fools might help us pass the time for five minutes. Ten tops, if we know someone with a gun and proud of it.
After that, we might hope it happens somewhere else, to people we don’t know. But it doesn’t offer much comfort to consider ourselves less selfish than gun manufacturers.
We could search for humor in the spectrum of astrophysics. No light escapes from the black hole our country inhabits in this blip of space-time. “To change, we will need the entire city of Newark, New Jersey to vanish all at once,” Gore Vidal said about the too-slow-moving-environmental catastrophe. We might thus take solace in realizing that the deranged or the jihadists or the racists so far lack the ability for collective action.
We didn’t lose enough of our citizens in World War II, says Tony Judt. Could we come to our senses without a bellyful of death? Other nations whose gun control laws we envy lost a significant percentage of their populations in the 20th Century’s wars. Our military’s deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan indicate the US may have even a bigger belly than those other combatants. Twain has Tom Sawyer say, at the end of Huck’s story, that he’d wade neck deep in blood for the adventure of it. By 1865 he had, don’t you know. Now, no matter how much white people hate black people, or holler about “States rights”, they don’t want to go back to those bloody days again. Will we only change our gun laws if we lose millions?
We could wallow in despair. That’s always fun. Who’s not in favor of the moral license provided by convincing ourselves nothing can be done? This would, however, separate us from the civil rights workers, suffragettes, abolitionists, union organizers, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, Vaclav Havel, Harvey Milk, whose felt experience of living mainly involved getting kicked in the ass. The shame of being separated from all those we admire does cut down on the pleasure of giving up.
So what to do? We believe that by our actions our country has the capacity to change, despite the futility of all we have done so far. That’s why it is faith. If we could demonstrate, by reason, logic or evidence that we are improving, that would be science. Faith means we are asserting something to be true even though we can’t prove it. It is a challenge we place upon both ourselves and the world. We hold these truths to be self-evident when in fact humanity had built over millennia their social, economic and political systems in direct contradiction of these truths. Those few guys imposed on a contrary universe their notion of equality. We’re still a long way from its actualization. But we affirm this faith every day.
How to endure this terrible time? “Imagine your country changing,” writes Adrienne Rich. We express our faith with our vision of telling the young, years from now, these were the bad old days.