Things That Go Bump in the Mind

Things That Go Bump in the Mind
Look for a new post every Sunday morning.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Time and Tragedy

“Time is on my side. Space is around my belly.” – Woody Herb
“Time is different on a roller coaster than it is for the folks waiting in line at the DMV.” – Arlo Lizzard
“There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them.” – Jim Croce.
“Time heals all wounds and wounds all heals.” – Anonymous

     It's no secret that this blog is a rehearsal for a book I'm planning on working on next summer after I retire from teaching public school. If I should live that long, that is; after all – the world is supposed to end this coming weekend. Some of what shows up in these posts from week to week will reappear in the book; most of it will certainly disappear into the bleak dystopia of The Great Digital Purgatory. The Great Digital Purgatory is a vast wasteland where ideas – some good, some not so good – go to sit out eternity waiting to be found and reconsidered in some mythical future where truth matters more than lies and kindness motivates us to finally take care of one another.
     Years from now when I'm no longer withdrawing air from my breath account and I've not only ceased writing, but my body has ceased even in the act of decomposing, I expect that everything I've ever posted to the internet will in some sense still exist – that is to say, it will still be recorded within numerous redundant storage drives – but will be forgotten and lost, buried in the vast landfill of The Great Digital Purgatory. C'est la vie. It's not going to stop me from cranking this drivel out.
If I'm remembered at all, if any of my words pop up randomly in some galactic search engine of the future, I hope it's for saying that I loved every last one of you who ever gave me a spare moment of your attention. Only love is eternal. I think I can really die happy if the love I've expressed into the universe holds the potential for popping up, randomly and at unexpected times, on someone's screen in the far distant future. If you are reading this a thousand years from now, and you have no idea who I am, don't be surprised to find out that I love you. I always have.
     I expect very little from this particular post will make it into the book that is to come because this week I want to write about a national tragedy that occurred a few days ago, and by the time I get around to compiling the book, this tragedy – for the vast majority of Americans who are not personally invested in the lives of its victims – will have been replaced by the latest tragedy. By the time I get around to writing and publishing the book, whether it's next summer or a year from now, this week's particular tragedy in which some tragically mad young adult quickly and brutally ended the lives of 20 elementary schoolchildren and a half dozen of their teachers will have been mostly forgotten. In a few short months, this particular tragedy will be nothing more than a footnote because as tragic as this mass murder was, the shooter failed to achieve the all-important body count that would move him to #1 in the standings; the real horror of this weeks atrocity is that this particular abomination only comes in at #2 in total victims served (for school shootings that is) and as such will not be worthy of further reflection because, hey, who's going to want to remember #2? No, by the time my book on the intersection of rhetoric, politics, superstition, and reality comes to print, the national consciousness – as driven by the national news media – will have long forgotten what a terrible week this was in the light of the next terrible week that is to come.
     While we may be running out of fossil fuels and other natural resources, our supply of national tragedies flows from a source of never ending sorrows; we will never run out of tragically crazy people who want nothing more than to die with a brief acknowledge from the national media that they did indeed exist. If the price of their admission to the national consciousness is the cost of more innocent lives, more brutally slain schoolchildren, then that is the expense they are willing to pay because as far as they are concerned the price of the suffering they inflict upon others costs them nothing extra.          
     Tragically crazy people who kill others for the sake of notoriety are already so miserable that they are willing to die for their brief mention in the national media; the concept that the misery they can cause others through their victims' deaths or permanent injuries can somehow increase their own personally misery does not compute. When someone is at the very brink of despair and is looking for their own annihilation to put an end to whatever personal misery is motivating their self-destruction, the idea that anything – even the lives of babies – can increase their misery is meaningless because in those deep, dark caverns of despair, the concept that life holds any value has been lost to them. People who have lost the ability to recognize the value of their own existence are incapable of appreciating the value of the lives of others.
     By the time someone has crossed the bridge into the mental/spiritual/emotion landscape where their own personal existence has no meaning, the meaning of the existence of others is nothing more than a high score in a video game. I'm not suggesting, by the way, that video games (or violent lyrics or slasher movies or any other pop culture scapegoats that typically take the blame for causing people to go tragically mad) have anything to do with inspiring these people to take up weapons against their unsuspecting and vulnerable victims; I am arguing, however, that their final body count does matter to them in the same way that making it into Guinness World Book of Records matters to someone who in May of 1973 jumped 14,325 times on a pogo stick. Since 1973, it's never mattered whenever someone has jumped less than 14, 325 times on a pogo stick. The only time it's ever going to matter again is when someone jumps 14, 326 times.
     Earlier this week, before someone went into a elementary school and began their quest to die and get their name and pictured splashed on Fox News, someone else on the other side of America went into a shopping mall in Oregon (at Christmas time, it's Christmas time, remember?) and began shooting at random strangers. That person only managed two kill two people, a hospice nurse and a youth-soccer coach, before being assisted by the police in his suicide by notoriety. While the mall shoppers of Oregon's continue to seek out bargains to the increasingly creepiness of Silent Night playing in the background, the death of that particular shooter is quickly sinking into becoming a footnote of a footnote; his identity, which will not pop here, will only be linked to infamy by his chronological association with the bigger massacre that happened a few days later. What a loser; he only took out the lives of two very good people who were deeply loved by the others in their lives. He only destroyed the hearts of a handful of people whose lives were forever touched by the kindness of a hospice nurse and a fellow who gave his time to coach soccer.
     When you go into a doctor's office and the physician wants to test your reflexes, you get a small smack on the knee with a tiny rubber hammer. If all is well, your knee responds by flying upwards without any conscious thought of your brain. Every time someone in this country goes tragically mad and seeks out to end his life by attempting to set the new world's record for most innocent lives lost, the national knee is hit with the rubber hammer of awareness that perhaps, just perhaps, having more guns than human beings in this country may not be a good thing. Oddly, the knee jerk reaction doesn't come from the people who want to ban guns, but from the people who expect that others will want to ban their guns. This week the only people I've read who've said anything about gun control has come as a response to the people who immediately feel the need to defend their own possession of deadly weapons.
     I guess it's time now for my “rhetorical term of the week”; this week the term is “tautology.” A “tautology” is a statement of so blindly truth that it's utterance adds nothing to a debate. To the gun control debate that inevitably emerges whenever blameless, innocent babies are slaughtered while learning to read their ABCs or add whole numbers, I want to point out (once and for all) that the statement that “only criminals use guns to kill people” is tautological because, yep, once you kill someone with a gun, you're a criminal. The two people who went tragically mad this week, both the one in the shopping mall and the other in the elementary school, were both law abiding citizens right up until the moment they put their first bullet into someone. This is just as true for everyone else walking around with a gun right now.
     To those who carry around the means to causally end the lives of others, even my own, you have my love. Go ahead and shoot me; I won't like you, but I won't stop loving you. For whatever it's worth, if there is some box score that might reflect how my life is to be accounted for, I want to be held accountable for the number of people of whom I loved, not the number of people I have threatened. On this, I agree entirely with Gandhi, who died at the bullet of a stranger, who said there was lots of causes he was willing to die for, but not a single one he was willing to kill for.
     Merry Christmas; keep thinking rhetorically; and I may or may not be back next week (depending on that whole “end of the world” thingy).

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