In the rising heat of an Orlando Sunday morning 49 bodies lay cold on a nightclub dancefloor. With every worried mother’s call, every desperate sister’s text, a cacophony of ringtones and notifications buzzed in the stillness. The calls just went to voicemail. The texts would go unanswered. And while the FBI and OPD sifted through the aftermath of a massacre the country awoke to chilling headlines.
We’ve been here before though, haven’t we? Surely this is old hat by now, a yellowed script so often read we no longer need the cues. First is the offering of thoughts and prayers to the families and loved ones. Next, a show of solidarity in ceremonial moments of silence. And then, do exactly nothing.
Nothing of meaning at least, nothing of merit. And while families are left choosing the color of the casket we prowl around on Facebook to bicker and rebuke, to strut around like bantam roosters with stray kernels of half truths, to adjudicate upon every blessed detail of the act including what to call it. Jesus, call it jihad, call it terrorism, or a hate crime. We can also call it what it is— a wholesale slaughter and a goddamn shame.
But what strikes me the most, and frankly what should outrage all of us, is just how binary the responses are. There is a line of demarcation down the center of the aisle. There is no neutral ground. To listen to our politicians, who have made a cold science distilling bloodshed into blame, this is all either the fault of a specific make of weapon or a vengeance inherent to an entire faith. Outside either one of those camps is a no man’s land, and we let ourselves get so engulfed in the rhetoric that we can't look objectively at anything.
Can’t we question the prudence of unfettered access to a personal armory without having our patriotism questioned?
Can’t we address the issue of Islamic extremism without being called a bigot?
I expect better of my country, because I demand better for my children.
Last month I picked up my 8 year old daughter from daycare, and when I asked how her school day had gone she told me, “Good. We had a lockdown drill.”
I feigned ignorance, forced a smile and asked, “What's that mean, hon?”
“It’s in case of an intruder.”
“You mean like an active shooter.”
“What’s an active shooter?”
Bless your naive little heart.
The only emergency exercises I remember in grade school were fire drills and tornado drills. To a 2nd grader in Tennessee in the early 1980s these were the most threatening possible scenarios. So, I had a lot of questions for my daughter that day, but the only one that seemed to matter was:
What the fuck is wrong with us?
The honest answer is the hardest. Monsters are real and atrocities happen. They have since long before Orlando, before Newtown and Aurora. They will again. Our greatest fault is not in the murderous acts of deranged people, but rather in our reaction (or non reaction) to them. We are capable of making meaningful changes. We’re just not willing. The house is divided, and while there is a devil at the door we choose to go to war with ourselves.