Without judgment, I offer two personal stories from this past week. They occurred within a day of each other.
First story: At lunch–during a discussion of guns, death and violence–a colleague described his neighbor’s reaction to the death of Sandy Hook students and teachers, as well as to the possibility of additional regulation of guns and ammunition. According to the colleague’s reasonable, and in my judgment sympathetic, report, his neighbor already owned an AR-15, and since the Sandy Hook deaths has purchased several more. When asked why he had purchased these additional guns, the neighbor responded that he wanted to be ready when they, the government, came to his house.
Second story: At our high school’s weekly chapel service, two senior boys played a concert to benefit the Youth and Family Services of Newtown, Connecticut. The seniors themselves requested the opportunity, chose the music and provided the commentary between pieces. During their performance, which they entitled “Reflection and Outreach,” they explained that it can be hard to find words at such times, and that music can express emotions in these situations. When I asked one of the boys about why they asked to do this concert, he said that the feelings expressed in the music could serve as one way to empathize with the Sandy Hook community.
To me, these two stories represent significantly different ways of seeing the present and future worlds. I am also reminded of the two essential questions that guide my work with high school sophomore classes: Who am I? What are my primary responsibilities to myself and to the communities in which I live? Most of our reading and writing focus on a student’s, character’s or author’s answer to these two questions. I wonder how the neighbor and senior boys would answer these questions. And I wonder what those answers mean for us–today and tomorrow? Finally, I wonder how my responses to the colleague and the students defines my answer to these essential questions.
7 responses to “two simple stories: Glock and Bach”
Many years ago, in graduate school, I took a Modern Letters course taught by my mentor. The class, titled “Death and Transfiguration,” encompassed some typical and atypical literature that I came to love. The death part was relatively easy to grasp, though the reality of it was painful. The transfiguration part was extremely complex to both understand and to live through. The two stories you relay, Bill, remind me clearly of this memorable course. The neighbor with the arsenal, prepared to confront the ominous if invisible and foggy government threat — and no one loves freedom more than I do! — is already locked and loaded for death. That’s easy, though the outcome horrific. The more complex, the more challenging, the more humane, the more life-saving alternative is to melt down the guns and turn them into orchestral instruments – and struggle to make music. I’m well aware of the wide-eyed, wild-headed notion of this, and am not prepared to make that a political platform. But in my mind, it is far more realistic to work toward a vast collaborative musical score to transform the world than it is to slaughter each other toward a bloody and insane transfiguration.
Thank you, Stephen. I don’t know the neighbor well enough, but I had planned to send this blog’s link to the two students. Your comment makes me want to do that sooner than later. Struggle to make music, indeed.
Those responses reveal two decidedly different reactions based respectively on fear and hope. The heavily armed man wants to protect what belongs to him – his home and his family. Anyone can understand and sympathize with that. However, he does so by turning inward, by assuming that the only way to do this is alone. In contrast, the students also surely want protection, but they view themselves as part of a larger world. They believe that in reaching out to help others they are also building a wider safety net that’s more likely to protect us all.
Statistically, we know that the easy availability of guns will lead to careless, unintentional deaths as well as thousands of intentional murders. But we also know that guns allow individuals like the armed man in your story to protect his family. Whether he’s aware of it or not, his actions and his support of lax gun control laws enable the deaths of countless strangers in exchange for his security.
Your post reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In a barren, post-apocalyptic world where it is truly each man for himself and murderers and cannibalists roam the countryside, the father focuses solely on protecting his son: “My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you.” Who can blame him, right? But the story ends in sacrifice. The father, sick and exhausted guiding his boy to warmer weather, dies. The boy covers him in a blanket, the new “gold” in this frozen land. And a family, with limited resources themselves, take the boy along with them. Or at least that’s the way I read it, and I think that’s what McCarthy intends. The story itself doesn’t have a message; it’s not a “how to survive the apocalypse” novel. Instead, it reveals to us who we are and how we view our responsibilities to ourselves and to our community.
Thanks for sharing. Your posts always get me thinking!
Thank you. I especially appreciate your idea about the larger safety net of protection, which is something I like to think most people want. I also appreciate the McCarthy reference and interpretation, which may push me to finally read his novel.
Holly’s response is beautifully stated, with McCarthy’s book an apt reference for the world we all fear – but can imagine happening if the guns are beaten into musical plows….
I think Jack on “Lost” said it best–we can either live together, or we can die alone. That’s a rather simplistic way to boil down the argument, but it seems basically true. Seeing as all of us will, one day, shuffle off that mortal coil, I feel the best way to prepare for that is to embrace life. Those two young men who put on the concert clearly chose that route. At the same time, I’m sympathetic to the fears that drive that neighbor to purchase more weapons, never mind the fact that if the government truly wanted to get him, no number of assault rifles would keep him safe. We are flawed, earthly creatures, with just enough of the ethereal to realize there must be a better way, if we could only keep our baser natures from holding us back.
I especially like the various elements in your last sentence. And I appreciate the at-the-same-time thought that represents the kinds of recognition we need within ourselves and between one another. As an adult guide for teenagers reading literature, I believe that recognizing the feelings in characters–say, Hamlet’s mixture of bitterness and love–helps younger people acknowledge their own emotional responses. This emotional intelligence, in turn, helps us all address the “fears that drive” us and powerful aspects of “our baser natures.”