I’m at the Y and it’s the news on TV and the story that will still take some time to play itself out, the one of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, the two slain journalists from Virginia, the story that has shocked, at least to the extent that anyone can be shocked anymore.
But it’s still disturbing enough to think of Alison and Adam, now household names, if not household faces, (there’s Alison with her beautiful dog, and Adam with his easy smile), shot dead in front of thousands of viewers, there in that nation that seems, on this issue, so hopelessly lost in the dark ages.
The American TV reporter is saying how sick and and tired she is of covering stories of gun violence – some 88 Americans are now killed every day, she says. That’s 88 yesterday. 88 today. 88, unless something changes, tomorrow.
She has two guests. They’re from California and Connecticut. One is the daughter of the principal slain in Sandy Hook, the other the father of a boy also killed in gun violence. The father’s wrist is covered in colourful bands, one for each of the friends he has who are also parents of children killed by guns.
The two guests talk. Your heart breaks as you listen to them share of their losses.
“Everything I once thought was important is no longer important to me,” says the father.
It’s a thought for today. For every today. For anyone who’s a father or mother or a son or a daughter.
Just like 88 is a thought for today.
It’s an American thing. An American right. It’s in the constitution, after all, the right to bear arms, the right, apparently, to walk to the corner store to get a weapon to kill someone, this as easily as getting an ice-cream.
I personally know Americans who are otherwise reasonable and rational people fall back on this so-called reason, never imagining that said constitutional amendment #2 was made during a time when you got around on a horse.
Times change. Laws change. (Even constitutional laws.) To reflect changing attitudes. To protect the vulnerable, if the not the community at large. To reflect common sense.
In my travels I’ve been south of the border enough, even to these wild west sort of places, to also know that America is more this, more than this ugliness, more than racially motived gun killings like in Charleston or any other kind of killing in any other way or place.
I’ve been over the border enough to know that America, at its best, at its core, is a dream as much as anything, a vision, one that has, even imperfectly, been lived out. It’s a place where, at it’s best, to quote that old negro spiritual, ‘we shall overcome.’
This is why the Mayflower landed on the shores of the Atlantic. To overcome. Americans, in their American ways, usually don’t need to be reminded of this.
They’ve gathered enough to remind themselves.
Once was in 1963, when they sang it there at the mall in Washington with Dr. King. Young and old, black and white, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles; row-by-row they sang of overcoming even as they sang of one day being, with God’s help, free at last.
It’s just one touchstone, one that spoke far beyond any American border.
Some years after that, I stood there in the Washington mall myself, there by the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and America’s other venerable institutions, me and a throng of others, maybe up to a million, again row after row after row of men gathered for another kind of heart change.
Now this. Every day. 88.
It makes you wonder what’s taking so long for Americans to take back the day, and the night, to take back their lives, to get back to Washington, to get there en masse by train and plane and old beater van or on their two feet if that’s all anyone may have, men and women and children, all there, in prayer and in anger too, Americans saying that they’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.
If they don’t — by their own free will and faith in the democracy so often trumpeted there south of the 49th Parallel, faith also in anything that is courageous and reasonable and good — then it makes you wonder if, now, this distance into the 21st Century, that old dream is dead.
It makes you wonder too why a Canadian has to say so.