all of the selves we Have ever been
Law enforcement responds to a call.
It is from a day care center, a grade school, a high school, a college campus, a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a concert, a festival, a public protest, a movie theater, a nightclub, a bar, a restaurant, a grocery store, a convenience store, a subway station, an Interstate Highway, a gas station, a military base, a Congressional baseball game, a campaign event, a Veterans Home, a municipal building, a manufacturing plant, a park, a bank, a shopping mall, a jewelry store, a city street, a birthday party, a block party, a football watch party, a post office, a FedEx facility, a factory, an office park, a newspaper office, a library, a massage parlor, a yoga studio, a health care facility, a hotel, a trailer park, a home, an apartment complex, a neighborhood door-to-door rampage.
There is an intruder.
He has guns.
And body armor.
He has a plan.
And a belief system.
He is influenced by hate-filled public discourse and an on-line community of like-minded individuals who provide him with an audience for this act, an act for which his audience will dub him a hero.
Is he mentally ill?
It is difficult to assess in this digital age in which inattention, thought disturbances, paranoia, and personality disorders have become main stream, an age in which many have willingly surrendered the higher powers of the human mind, gifts such as impulse control, empathy, and insight. We are trading our humanity for followers and likes. It is becoming cool to be unkind.
We ask ourselves what must be done about mass shootings. And the truth is that we need intervention at every level.
Law enforcement needs to be better prepared and more vigilant as do we in our comings and goings from all of the normal places we live and frequent. The list above is a list of all the places mass shootings have occurred in this country. There is no place untouched.
We must do something to stop the proliferation and use of guns, especially assault weapons. We must be vigilant for signs and reports of planning. And most basic of all, we must stop the hate-filled, divisive public discourse that is overwhelming all of us in person, in print, on television, and on-line. We are exhausted by it, but there are some minds more fragile and more susceptible, people who will be damaged and act out in ways that harm us all.
We need to prioritize human rights and human safety over gun rights and gun safety. The people who fill our legislatures need to represent the good people of America. There are enough of us to really show our power at the polls. And while we are at it, maybe we should change the rules of the game. Let’s show our elected officials to whom we have given good salaries, Cadillac health insurance, and big pensions what the gig economy we face looks like. Let’s limit their pay to the work they get done. If they want to represent special interests, let them go to work in corporate America.
In the mean time, there are enough of us. If we have to, we can lock arms and form a human chain around every school in America so that our children will know they are safe, that grown-ups are in charge, that parents are not defenseless, that they can believe in us again. My children are grown, but sign me up. I’ve got the rest of my life to give for something that matters so much.
I love a cliché. Especially an old one.
I know. I know. Not a good thing. Overused. Poor style. Puts the reader’s brain to sleep…
But I can’t help myself. It’s an acquired taste. Clichés are like junk food. Nobody can eat just one. I fear my affection for them may be a sign of dementia. But at least I understand what people are saying when they use them.
Every year new words enter the lexicon and old words take on new meanings. As they do, I find that I have no idea what people are talking about. I have come to believe that gibberish and not English is my native tongue. The digital age has added new expressions and hundreds of acronyms and emojis. I am constantly in need of a translator. And the political jargon seems downright dangerous: liberal, left, right, elites, woke, cancel culture, gaslighting, Karen… These seem like loaded words spoken by people carrying actual guns. There is no live and let live in this crowd. As opposed to the old clichés that reflect our common understandings, this new terminology seems filled with accusations meant to demean, humiliate, and sow division. There are people who really will throw you under the bus if you misspeak or suggest even minor disagreement. They are so high on hate, I’m not sure they really know what they are talking about either. All is not groovy. More personally, I am feeling really bad for my lovely friend whose name is Karen.
Sure, I may be boring and unoriginal. I confess to being worn out and losing my edge. Perhaps I seem lazy, and weak brained, but at the end of the day, no harm done. I can live with that.
I may no longer be as sharp as a tack, but I am sticking to my guns and circling the wagons. When I get to heaven I expect to be dead on arrival, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meantime, I like being on common ground with my neighbors and taking the path of least resistance.
You know what I mean.
Ever have one of those days?
You wake up and you’re already tired?
And then a stink bug lands on your face,
and you slap yourself in the eye as you leap out of bed, tearing a toenail in half from sudden hard contact with the bed frame. You go for a morning jog and your bra strap breaks. One of the girls gets loose and you take a left uppercut to the chin with every stride. Instead of the runner’s high that typically fuels your day you find yourself miserable, praying to make it home before there’s a full knock out.
Starving, you pour your cereal only to find that there is but a teaspoonful of milk left in the carton, and you rue the day you became the Restocker-in-Chief. Disgusted, you skip breakfast even though your stomach grumbles that you are making a big mistake.
Everything about this new day screams: Retreat! And yet you soldier on.
You step into the shower where the full-on hot is barely warm. You get yourself and the children out the door. Everyone has their bags, their folders, their lunches, and their signed permissions slips. Your note says: Get milk.
You endure the traffic and the road construction while fretting over that darn tire pressure light glaring at you. The first to arrive at work, you switch on the lights and make the coffee. You turn on the computer and are faced with a technical difficulty. The bot chat proves worthless. You get to a customer service rep who you know is reading from a script. Before you are completely hypnotized by the repetition, you try to come up with your own solution to the problem, something that won’t involve job loss or prison time.
The day wears on. You stay on the job, and the work gets done. You provide for your family, and you help a few strangers along the way. There will be no extra credit for all of the terrible things that you thought about but did not do. You did not leave your litter on the running path. You did not explode in a fit of road rage at your fellow rush hour travelers. You did not ridicule the customer service representative. You did not quit.
In life, it is the small things that break us, and we never know what sorrows or fears are in the bags of our fellow travelers, the things that leave them too short on strength to take on all of the small stuff. We underestimate and undervalue the everyday bravery it takes to endure so many small things.
Now some may say that is too negative. They may see the empty milk carton as half full, and perhaps it is they who left it on the shelf, but it is the person who is sure that the carton is empty and who stops at the store to replace it that is both a realist and an optimist. There will be milk tomorrow.
With advancing age, I have come to realize how much everyday bravery it has taken to get me to where I am today. Now, when I see people receiving awards, I think about their talent for sure. Maybe it is beautiful writing that results in a Pulitzer Prize. And then I think of the editor who perfected every sentence despite the whining of her stable of writers, and the lowly intern who read the first draft from a mile deep pile of submissions and recognized that he had found something special, or the secretary who answered a hundred calls from impatient submitters, or that maintenance man who came to work in a snowstorm and turned on the lights, or the typesetter who chose the font and made the book real. In the background of all of their lives, there were sick children, aging parents, past-due bills, major disappointments, a myriad of small obstacles. And no awards.
Self-help gurus advised us long ago not to sweat the small stuff. Easy for them to say. I am pretty sure that the world keeps turning and the winners keep winning because of the farsighted courage of all the quiet and sweaty people who faced down the small stuff.
It is the 2022 National Day of Prayer. The President has offered this proclamation:
Throughout our history, prayer has been an anchor for countless Americans searching for strength and wisdom in times of struggle and sharing hope and gratitude in seasons of joy. In public reflections on life’s many blessings and in quiet moments during life’s most difficult trials, Americans of nearly every background and faith have turned to prayer for comfort and inspiration. Prayer is a sacred right protected by free speech and religious liberty enshrined in our Constitution, and it continues to lift our spirits as we navigate the challenges of our time.
On this day, we recognize the healing power of prayer, especially as we recover from the trauma and loss of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Today we find ourselves in a moment of renewal — of lives saved, of new jobs created, and of new hope for rebuilding America. Today is also a moment of reflection when we are called to address some of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced — saving our planet from the existential threat of climate change; responding to attacks on democracy at home and abroad; and living up to our Nation’s promise of liberty, justice, and equality for all.
As the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “There is a need we all have in these days and times for some help which comes from outside ourselves.” Across our diverse and cherished beliefs, on this National Day of Prayer, no matter how or whether we pray, we are all called to look outside ourselves. Let us find in our hearts and prayers the determination to put aside our differences, come together, and truly see one another as fellow Americans.
For me, prayer is more than just my daily bread; it is my glue, a time for mending and strengthening. And in this frightening time of disease, war, political unrest, and incivility, I find myself praying continuously.
Most days, it is all I can do to face the problems in the world, but I ask myself: What is it that is my responsibility to do? I feel too small for the size of the task, but too fearful to do nothing. I reflect on the words of Jon Acuff:
“God found Gideon in a hole, Joseph in a prison, Daniel in a lion’s den. Next time you feel unqualified to be used by God, remember: He tends to recruit from the pit, not the pedestal.”
I await my orders.
And as I do, I further reflect on the wisdom of the poet, Kahlil Gibran:
And if you cannot but weep when your soul summons you to prayers, she should spur you again and yet again, though weeping, until you shall come laughing.
When you pray you rise to meet in the air those who are praying at that very hour, and whom save in prayer you may not meet.
I know that I have met you there in that invisible temple. We will find our way. Together.
I turn the page on my calendar and discover that today is World Tuna Day.
A sometimes lapsed Catholic, I wonder if this might be a new Holy Day of Obligation. For the non-Catholics out there, a Holy Day of Obligation is a day on which Catholics are expected to attend Mass and refrain from work and other activities that might interfere with their worship of God.
I consider attending Mass, but that sounds like work to me, and I am too late anyway. I will add this latest lapse to my growing list of sins to be reported the next time I seek confession which is a Sacrament, another type of obligation, but not one that takes up an entire day, unless you are a child of Satan and have a lot to report.
With my curiosity aroused, I turn to the Tree of Knowledge to fish for some answers.
According to the information posted on www.un.org, in 2016 the United Nations passed a resolution making May 2nd World Tuna Day in order to spread the word about the dangerous situation faced by this important fish. Apparently, the future of tuna is threatened by overwhelming demand and unsustainable fishing practices. Overfishing has endangered the species and the delicate ecosystem of the ocean’s food chain. Overfishing also threatens to impact the livelihoods of people all over the world, and the United Nations is taking measures to safeguard the value of tuna stocks—the Wall Street version, not the stack of cans in a good Catholic’s pantry.
Sailing around the internet, I learn that there are seven commercial species of tuna fished from four different oceans. All my life, I thought Charlie the Tuna was the only one. As of 2018, the tuna industry was worth about forty billion dollars, and that does not include the tuna fishing gear industry.
I am more than a little surprised that with all that is at stake the United Nations waited until after Lent to bring this up. Let’s face it, observant Catholics are complicit in this developing tragedy. Before Charlie the Tuna, Jesus was a pretty well-known spokesperson. Jesus was really into fishing. Some of his apostles were actual fishermen before Jesus made them fishers of men. Jesus was also known for his famous loaves and fishes routine. I am pretty sure that was when the tuna fish sandwich became popular on the Catholic menu.
By the 1950s, the decade in which I was born, tuna noodle casserole was a mainstay of the American Catholic’s diet on Friday nights and all throughout the season of Lent. It was cheap to make, the ingredients were easy to find and non-perishable to boot. The meal was easy to prepare and provided leftovers. It was also popular at church potlucks and a nice gesture of comfort in times of tragedy.
I think we all have something to confess here.
But the Church is good at granting dispensations-- an act for which a lawful superior grants relaxation from an existing law in a particular case. You might need that if you find yourself craving tuna noodle casserole given the plight of the tuna. You might want to shoot for Eat What You Want Day which is coming up on May 11th. Eat What You Want Day is a day to eat whatever you want without fretting over fats or fishing. A day without guilt. I’m pretty sure that can’t be a Catholic Church holiday.