Outside my window is nothing but fall perfection. The sugar maples are electric shades of red and orange; fire flames igniting hillsides with their brilliant hues while yellow pops all over the landscape too. Evergreens stand taller now, holding their forest color and reminding us that life goes on even while chlorophyll breaks down those leaves fading on the deciduous trees. Poetry alone captures this season of change. This moving on: an end and a beginning all in the same breath.
And yet, regardless of my present beatific state, it would be unthinkable to not mention all the suffering happening around our globe. Puerto Ricians are minimally months away from finding electricity or clean water back into so many dwellings swept to the ground by Hurricane Maria. California is inundated by the most devastating fires of all time; more than 50,000 acres are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties alone (The Washington Post). One need not look further than Texas or Florida to find unrivaled destruction this hurricane season. All man’s work. All due to our cavalier approach to having our way upon this gentle earth; us, we are the cause of so many of these epic disasters.
Early Monday I was sitting in my car waiting for the layer of morning frost to melt off my windshield when I first heard the news from Las Vegas on NPR. I immediately got out of the car and went back inside to hug my wife. In her confusion over this double goodbye, I suggested she sit. Together we scrolled through dozens of 140 character snippets on Twitter; just long enough to fully grasp the horror. What is there to say when one hears of another mass murder carried out by another person in possession of a rigged-rapid-fire rifle? Is this our new normal, America?
Period 1, I asked my students to start class with a seven minute write. Typical Monday routine although I am sure they sensed my desperate need for writing time rather than our regular foray into playfulness. 7 minutes to write. That mystical number which allows us to break into the root of the matter. Afterwards, I asked who heard the news from Las Vegas that morning. Several responded at once. One shooter. Mass murder. Innocent concert-goers. Largest massacre in US history. After a brief but potent rundown of the know facts I posed the pressing yet unanswerable question: how will we solve the gun violence epidemic in America? They talked background checks. Gun limits. Mental illness. But then they sat mute, weighed down by the magnitude of gun violence, again. I asked them, please continue this conversation, with anyone, with everyone. To not let the NRA or the politicians in their pockets, or the fear, win. I’m not sure they could hear me. Many own guns. Most are already afraid. One suggested I carry a gun. We laughed at the thought of that. Me. The little lady with loud boots and big hats. It was time to move on, so, we segued into a discussion of the character of Edna’s suicide at the end of Chopin’s The Awakening. Seriously, understanding these massacres are beyond me in every way possible.
When it all comes tumbling down, there is us. Between tropical hurricanes, and devastating south Asian floods, and politicians messing with Dreamers, there is us. Holding on to a thin thread. Waking in the dawn to go through the routines of life. Time to deconstruct problems, to formalize conflicts, to ask those why questions, all flit like butterflies in our mind as we wait at red lights or on post office lines, but with never enough time to think deeply enough. Because solutions take longer than a moment. We need silence. Staring. Stopping. And when can we ever manage that? I fear that living has shifted into something so swift that none of us can even question anything. Do it quick and move on. Congress shores up the government for three months and calls it good enough. We mail off a check to the Houston Red Cross and sigh relief. We hit high heat on the microwave and call it dinner. Afterwards we click the button on the controller and let our babies stare at the screen with us. Prefer to text, not to talk. Scroll through the news-feed liking every back to school shot without even looking to see their timid faces peering over their new backpacks and lunch sacks. We’re on the move to nowhere. Tumbling down. Thankfully the earth is there to catch us.