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“A Different Kind of Courage”: Soul Piercing Hard, Quiet Sacred Moments

Much has been written lately by people who think that President Obama has done an inadequate job of calming the nation’s fears. Today he takes on a very different task as the Consoler-in-Chief. On his way to the family’s Christmas vacation in Hawaii, the President will stop in San Bernardino to spend some private time with the victims and families of the shootings that took place there earlier this month.

I don’t expect that we’ll hear much about these meetings. But they’ll probably be much like the ones he held with the families of the shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago. If you’ve never read Joshua Dubois’ account of that day, here is a portion of it:

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss…

And the funny thing is—President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.

Those were quiet sacred moments – much as the ones today will be.

There is a twisted way in which our culture often associates courage with the kind of chest-thumping we saw on the Republican debate stage Tuesday night. But that dismisses the kind that it takes to look into the eyes of a mother/father/son/daughter/husband/wife who has lost a loved one to senseless violence and embrace their grief. There is a reason why most of us avoid being put in a situation like that whenever possible. It’s soul-piercing hard. So today I want to take a moment to think about what it says about President Obama that he would chose to go there. Beyond what he’s actually done to keep us safe, that’s at least as important as what he says to allay our fears.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 18, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | Mass Shootings, President Obama, San Bernardino | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“What Will We Do After The Next Slaughter?: Shut Up About San Bernardino, Because There’s Nothing Left To Say

The right and the left have both issued verdicts on what not to say after a mass shooting.

The right ridicules calls for gun-safety measures. The left mocks what it perceives to be hollow nostrums about “thoughts and prayers.” I think they’re both right. I think it’s time to say nothing at all.

I realized this when I discovered the most trenchant thing I’d read about San Bernardinonoting that Sandy Hook didn’t begin a national conversation about guns so much as end it—was actually written about the murders at the Emanuel AME Church.

There is no way to overdramatize the speed with which San Bernardino followed Colorado Springs; it happened too fast for hyperbole. There wasn’t even time for an idea to be proposed, much less fail. Columns written about Richard Dear are still being published even as we hunt for answers about the massacre farther west.

Sure, the particular gruesomeness of this crime—at a center for the disabled—seems like it might be enough to…what? What about this crime will shove the graceless leviathan of our national consciousness from the sludge-gummed track we’ve developed to deal with what should be unspeakable, unthinkable, at very fucking least rare?

In the hours after the California killings, heavy traffic crashed a mass shooter database. Which is more horrifying—that so many people needed the information, or that there was so much information to be had?

We have reached the point where mass shootings have a “news consumer handbook,” where the most helpful journalistic tool in covering a killing isn’t local sources so much as search-and-replace: Newsweek reporter Polly Mosendz keeps a pre-written mass shooter story fresh in her text editing files. “A mass shooting has been reported at TK, where TK people are believed to be dead and TK more are injured, according to TK police department,” it says. “The gunman has/hasn’t been apprehended.”

So I propose a columnist strike, a hot take moratorium, a sound-bite freeze. The only response that could possibly match this gut-punching tragedy isn’t made up of words but silence.

I envision blank blog posts, empty sets, magazine pages slick and white from edge to edge. I want to open up The Washington Post or The New York Times and find the grainy gray of naked newspaper stock in place of columnists’ prose.

Let’s fill Twitter with dead space and leave Facebook with a total absence of “likes.”

Let the cable talking heads mute themselves.

Hear in that noiselessness the echo all the prayers and the pleas, all the policy proposals and screeds that were written about the last mass shooting, and the one before that and the one before the one before that. Hear the thundering clap of absolute inaction in Congress, and the crazed, giddy titter of those loosening gun laws state by state. Hear the voices that don’t speak, that can’t, the conversations some families will never get to have.

What I want is not a “national moment of silence,” nor really a prayer. I don’t wish to summon contemplation or reflection but choking sobs and knotted throats. I want to share with the world the wordless groan that is the only prayer the grieving have.

I want a strike, a shutdown, a refusal to move. Not just inaction as a pause—rather, stillness as an action in itself.

I don’t think what I want to happen actually can happen, not in this world. The media machine inexorably churns and, less reflexively, our mutual ache and mourning demands recognition on screens and off.

Then again, our suspension of discussion doesn’t have to last forever. I don’t want to create a vacuum so much as create awareness about how much has already been said.

There’s nothing left to say, so let’s just not say it.

I write this, my fingers cold and my heart broken and hesitating before I press “send.” If I publish this column now, if I let this idea into the world after this slaughter…Why, then, what will we do after the next?

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, December 3, 2015

December 4, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Mass Shootings, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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