Letter From New York January 18, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

It has been the long Martin Luther King weekend; a wonderful holiday, coming shortly after Christmas, an opportunity to gather strength for the months ahead, while we are mired in the depths of winter. As I write this, I am curled up cozily in the cottage, classical music playing, laptop on my lap, having listened all afternoon to reports of another storm descending on the region. When I arrived home on Friday, two fresh feet of snow were on my deck and young Nick arrived on Saturday to dig me out. The cold was deeper than usual and it was good to be home, a small fire in the Franklin stove, the lights of the Christmas tree twinkling, reflected in the great sliding doors to the deck. Indulgently, I left the tree up feeling as if I was not yet finished with my joy in it.

Like many, my thoughts over the weekend went to Martin Luther King whose assassination when I was a teenager was another coda in the violent symphonies that were the 1960’s. The year he died, 1968, was the year both he and Robert F. Kennedy were killed by an assassin’s bullets. When he died, I was shocked and saddened, like many, most others. I do not remember how his death was noted at school. I do remember that I asked myself the same question then that I asked myself when John F. Kennedy had been shot five years earlier: what kind of country are we? It was the question I asked myself later that year when RFK was shot and killed in California.

And, of course, it is the question I have asked myself since the shootings in Tucson a week ago. What kind of country are we? I didn’t have an answer in my adolescence when the Kennedys and King were killed and I don’t have an answer now.

I know some things about what makes this country tick, observations gathered from now more years than once I could have imagined. We are a good people. We are violent people. We have our fair share of crackpots, quacks and just plain crazy folks – the man who shot Representative Gifford and eighteen other people, killing six, seems to be just plain crazy, a young man who demonstrated enough evidence of trouble that his school called in his parents to tell them he must have help or he could not attend school. He didn’t get help; he dropped out of school to avoid it and I don’t know what his parents did to respond but now they will live with his actions for the rest of their lives. The photos of him leave me feeling unhinged.

In the shocking aftermath of the killings and the woundings, there has been a quiet that has come across the land. Representative Gifford was the apparent target of the man and her near death has resulted in all sides of the political spectrum to ratchet down the volume of their voices while standing united behind one of their own, whether or not they shared her beliefs.

A billboard in Tucson that described Rush Limbaugh as a “straight shooter” has been taken down. And, once again, the gun laws are being debated while the gun used in the shootings, a Glock, seems to have become very popular, notoriety not a bad thing for sales. The number of requests for gun permits has bumped since then, a result of some fearing that gun laws would become tougher. [Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to happen.]

Sarah Palin made a speech; I didn’t listen. But some pundits think it may have done her in as a Presidential hopeful. Obama made a speech in Tucson that has caused his approval rating to spike – and for some to remember his glowing oratory of the 2008 campaign with Democrats hoping this is the moment he returns to focus.

Perhaps Tucson is another coda, a finishing of another symphony in our history. But like others, it must be filled with prayers for victims, living and dead.

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