“(Random) Acts of (Non) Violence”
“(Random) Acts of (Non) Violence”
In tragic works of literature, characters die, obviously. We know to expect substantial death toll, for example, when we read Hamlet, in which 8 die; Othello, in which 5 die; Macbeth, in which 7 die; and King Lear, in which 10 die (11 if you count Lear’s fool). In these plays, characters die for different reasons and in different ways; some of the deaths are intentional, others are incidental and even accidental. The heap of bodies on the stage at the end of each play is a hyperbolic reminder not only of our own mortality but also of the impulses that drive individuals to kill—family vengeance, sexual jealousy, personal insecurity, political ambition.
Fast-forward 400 years. When tragedy strikes in real life, unlike when we read or watch Shakespeare’s dark plays, it is difficult, if not impossible, to glean a rationale for the event, to say nothing of a story-book moral.
One morning several weeks back, March 11th to be exact, I was on the elliptical at the gym and distracting myself by following two different cable news programs at once on the sea of plasmas above the treadmills. I looked away from the screens for a moment, and when I returned my attention to them, I was in disbelief at what I saw. The caption on one screen announced a school shooting in Frankfurt, Germany that had resulted in at least 16 deaths; the caption on another announced a two-town shooting spree in Alabama that had resulted in at least 10 deaths.
I have often thought about the simultaneity of life, but not about the simultaneity of death.
The inevitability of death, yes, I have contemplated that, but never the virtually simultaneous, international, random, mass murder of people in the way that I was made to contemplate it that day last March.
I have thought that somewhere else in the world right now other people, like me, are posting to their blog. Brushing their teeth. Scrambling eggs. Packing tomorrow’s lunch. Buying groceries. Driving to work. Tucking their children in for the night. Giving birth. Celebrating a birthday. Fighting a cold.
But dying at the same time? And at the hands of a disturbed teenager or a disgruntled, laid-off worker?
What’s worse, in the weeks since these mass shootings, the news has been cluttered with more of the same headlines. On March 22nd, four police officers in Oakland, CA, were killed while trying to secure a suspect that had fled during a routine traffic stop; the suspect ended up dead, too. March 29th was another double day of mass killing: in Carthage, NC, a gunman went on a shooting rampage in a nursing home, killing 8, including himself; meanwhile, in Santa Clara, CA, a man shot dead his two children, another couple and their 11-month old daughter, and then killed himself. On April 3rd, a gunman murdered 13 people in a Binghamton, New York immigration and refugee center before also turning the gun on himself.
These are not events that we can ever make sense of.
In the absence of understanding, we can ask ourselves some hard questions about our position on the grand old 2nd amendment and educate ourselves on current gun control policy and on what our government is (NOT) doing to curtail shooting sprees such as these of late. While there are many other crises currently occurring in our nation and the world, the flurry of shootings is sure to bring regulation of gun possession squarely back into U.S. popular discourse. Senator Dianne Feinstein has recently spoken out (again) against the 2nd amendment, and she will be addressing the topic during her 60 Minutes interview this coming Sunday, April 12th.
Whatever your position on the constitutionality of bearing arms, if nothing else, in our daily lives, we can temper all these unfathomable random acts of violence with more random acts of kindness.