One must say Yes to life and embrace it wherever it is found — and it is found in terrible places. …For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
— James Baldwin
Out the window, the Japanese maple has become a cloud of golden stars, quivering in the late November air. Inside, during the day I watch the sky pass. I look up from where I sit and watch the clouds. I like to think their passing is evidence of a world more real than mine at the screen and on the page. A world we all improbably share. A moon that follows us in orbit. Seasons, in spite of injustice, ebola, homicide, unrest.
How is it possible for any human’s heart not to ache at what’s happened? What keeps happening?
How is it possible for any of us to go on living at all, nodding to strangers as we pass, holding loved ones hands, offering beggars what we have, planning for Thanksgiving. There is so much hunger, need, anguish, guilt, loss. Each of us lives it in some way, and then beyond us, the world mirrors it back ten fold. One thousand fold.
At the table my boys are looking at a Lego catalog. They’re talking about which figures are the bad guys and which are the good ones, and most importantly, which ones have guns.
“Stop,” I say. I can’t help it. “Guns are awful.”
“But mommy,” Sprout says, “The good guys need them so they can shoot the crooks.”
It’s a new word he’s been using. Crooks. I have no idea where it came from. We don’t watch TV, and they don’t play video games.
“What makes a crook?” I want to know.
“They’re the bad guys, Mommy, obviously.” He says.
“Even bad guys have mommies,” I say then. I don’t know where I’m going with this, only that I want him to understand that every life matters, even in play.
I know we all seek ways to live out epic battles of archetype and wonderment, and kids do this in their play, regardless of the toys they have at their disposal. Good versus evil. Life and death. Tragedy and comedy. Still, there is a way that entertainment both glorifies and objectifies the things that terrify us in real life: brutality, horror, human fallibility. We become convinced that guns are necessary for fighting the “bad guys.” We claim we need them for our freedom.
Nothing makes me more devastated than this stupid, erroneous claim.
I know there are many things at play in each instant, in each case of brutality or heroism (the Taxi Driver incredibly portrays how fine a line it is between them.) But with guns, every instant ends with a certain absolute failure.
Guns are the weakest excuse. The failure of bravery; the bluntest accomplice of aggression, our greatest fears and shortcomings masquerading as our strength. With guns, every mistake is fatal, and every victory is fatal too.
How is this the way we choose to live?
Still we do. Morning finds us softly with new light. New bread in the kitchen fills the air with sweetness. We make plans with friends to gather and hold each other close. We sip wine. We light candles. We say whatever kinds of prayers we say, whispered, wonder-filled, pleading.
The world offers up its beauty and its terror, never equally. And each day we arrive in the morning of our lives anew. It’s up to us to choose to courageous, to be honest, to be true .
Happiest Thanksgiving to you, dear friends. I’m so grateful you find your way here.