Aside from the ubiquitous thoughts and prayers, the refusal to consider any kind of gun control at all because it’s always too soon to talk about it, and the flags once again lowered to half-staff, there is another thing that comes up every time there is a mass shooting–the refrain, uttered with no sense of irony, that “This is not who we are.”
Thoughts and prayers do not bring back the dead.
We still need common sense gun laws.
The American flag should simply remain at half-staff in shame.
And, yes, absolutely yes, this is who we are.
Not everyone, of course, but who we are as a nation, as a people so splintered it seems almost impossible to build any kind of bridge to find common ground.
Despite what we are taught, we are not a melting pot where all the ingredients are mixed in nicely. We are a gun-crazed, violence-filled cesspool of people who hate other people. We are angry, greedy, jealous, narcissistic jerks who always have to be right and who lack compassion or empathy. We are white people who hate and mistrust people of color and we are people of color who hate and mistrust white people. We are Christians who hate Jews who hate Muslims who hate Christians. We are straights who hate gays and gays who hate straights, men who hate women and women who hate men, cisgender folks who hate trans folks and trans folks who hate cisgender folks. We are a nation of immigrants who hate the Native people who were here first. We are a nation of immigrants who also hate the immigrants who are still coming for a supposed better life. We are a sad, pathetic nation of sorry losers who despite all indications to the contrary think that we are the greatest nation on earth.
This is who we are.
We are not the greatest nation on earth. We were never the greatest nation on earth. We committed genocide on the indigenous peoples of this land, we captured and enslaved people from another continent, we have been at war pretty much endlessly with one enemy after another since the founding of the republic. We are killing the earth that nurtures us and we are killing each other. We idolize profits more than prophets.
This is who we are.
When in one week a right-wing fanatic sends bombs to more than a dozen people with whom he disagrees, a white supremacist shoots two African-American people in a grocery store while stating that “whites don’t shoot whites,” and an anti-Semite kills eleven worshippers in a synagogue–including a 97 year-old woman who survived the Holocaust–we cannot say, “This is not who we are.”
It is who we are.
We are a nation of covert wars, assassinations, random killings. We are a nation of cities that count their murders every year in the dozens and hundreds. We are Las Vegas, Pulse Orlando, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, Columbine, Fort Hood, Aurora, Oak Creek, and more. We are also now, ironically, The Tree of Life.
This is who we are.
But it is not who we have to be, because we are also first responders, volunteers, life savers, pacifists, rabbis, ministers, priests, doctors, nurses, peacemakers, and countless people who give of themselves every day to make their communities, this country, and the world a better place for all. We are also those who donate blood when mass shootings happen, those who raise money to care for others, those who take care of others before themselves.
This is who we can be.
As a society we need to learn to put ourselves in the shoes of others. We need to understand what it must be like to be in such dire circumstances in the country of one’s birth to choose to leave it and go to an unknown promised land for the hope of a better life. My ancestors did that. Along with about a million others they left Ireland and its potato famine behind to avoid being among the million who died of starvation and disease during the famine. Others leave their places of origin for political reasons in countries where they might face imprisonment or death because of who they are or what they believe. The Hondurans walking through Mexico will walk more than a thousand miles to get to the U. S. border. Who would do this unless they felt they had no choice? We must try to see the world through the eyes of others.
It is who we must become if we are to survive as a nation, if we are to be more than just a footnote of history. We will become the greatest nation on earth when we learn to love one another, when we become empathetic, when we have compassion for the least of our brethren and live that compassion in our daily lives. We will become great when we come to terms with our privilege, when we offer food and shelter to the poor, when we find forgiveness for those who have hurt us, when we seek forgiveness from those we’ve hurt, when our conscience is our guide and when love is the beacon that leads us into a better tomorrow. We will become great when our moral compass points at our own souls and we see that we are heading in the right direction–homeward–to that place of love that resides within each of us.