As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
–Wendell Berry, from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”
I haven’t allowed myself to process the mass shooting that occurred on May 24th in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 students and two teachers dead, as well as 17 others wounded. The shooter, eighteen years old, is dead as well. I cannot click on the news stories, or the pictures of the precious 4th graders who will not move up to fifth grade next year. I cannot think about their parents’ grief, about the excitement and busyness of the end-of-the-school-year that they must have all been feeling before this, this absolute horror occurred.
I am holding it all at bay because it is all too much, and our country’s response, I fear, will be all too predictable. Which is to say we will hear the line about “thoughts and prayers;” we will be asked to observe moments of silence; we will be urged to call our representatives demanding gun control; we will be urged to give money to various organizations dedicated to end gun violence; we will be told that we must vote out the politicians who value their power more than they value the lives of their constituents.
None of these responses are wrong. Well, “thoughts and prayers” might be wrong when that’s all politicians offer, when their true God is money and power and being on the right side of the NRA. But giving money and calling our politicians is, of course, an appropriate thing to do. Political engagement is necessary.
And yet it feels horribly, totally inadequate. It is horribly, totally inadequate. A cruel joke, when we are told we have the power to change things via our democracy, and then our Senate literally cannot pass a bill without a filibuster-proof 60-person majority.
It is impossible. It is minority rule out of control posing as democracy.
The day after the shooting, I texted with a friend, telling her that I wasn’t able to process it, that I couldn’t take it in, and that the only response I wanted the country to have was for us all to leave our homes, our offices, and lie down in the streets, blocking traffic and commerce and industry until something changed. That I wanted the 2nd amendment repealed. That I was tired of all of the compromised talk about “responsible gun ownership.” That I was tired of trying to frame things in such a way that sounded reasonable. That I wanted to be unreasonable, because what we are facing is beyond any reason. What we are facing is a culture of death, intent on killing us, whether relatively slowly by devastating our environment, or quickly with a gun.
My husband came home from work that evening, the day after the shooting, and I told him that I hadn’t been able to concentrate at all because of the killing of 19 children close to my own son’s age, and yet I still couldn’t process it. I couldn’t bear to look at the photos of the children whose lives were lost, I couldn’t bear to think of the chaos and violence and fear that marked their death.
“I can’t process it, either,” said my husband.
I said I needed to leave the house, that I couldn’t stand being inside. I couldn’t stand prayers, I couldn’t stand memes, I couldn’t stand editorials. I went to a sanctuary near where I live, a few acres preserved by some neighborhood Quakers who chose, instead of selling the land to developers, to preserve it as a land trust, a resting place for anyone who chooses to enter. I walked to the pond in the middle of the land trust, and startled a frog, who croaked loudly and then leapt into the water. Nearby, I noticed a busted-up chair beneath a looming white oak. I sat on the chair beneath the tree and listened to the birds, observed the squirrels at play, running, chasing, much like children. I thought of how old the tree was that I sat beneath, and how it was as much a part of God’s kin-dom as I was. Perhaps even more so, because trees do not allow the senseless violence that we humans perpetually engage in.
I still couldn’t process the deaths. I still couldn’t let my mind linger on the details for more than a minute. Instead I sat. I breathed in and out beneath that tree, aware that I had to ground myself in something deeper, truer and wiser before I could begin to make any sort of response that was worth something.
I wish I could offer more than the advice to go to the woods. But I think the woods is a good place to start, to hear the still, quiet voice of God, that might eventually ask us to put our bodies on the line in ways we have never before contemplated. That might ask us to finally do something different, though what that different thing is, I still don’t know. But it helps me to remember Jesus’s fury in the Temple.