Where does one go from a world of insanity? Somewhere on the other side of despair.
–TS (Thomas Stearns) Eliot
As the Nashville Blizzard of 2011 picks up steam, one is left to consider the imponderables of life and death. A few inches of snow in Nashville will immobilize this city, its education and commerce for days to come. What better time to contemplate the senseless tragedies of our culture, our time and our human condition?
A deranged gunman, a murdered federal judge, a beloved Congresswoman and a nine year old girl born on September 11, 2001. They and seventeen others are all victims of what seems to be a world gone mad. Mass murders are not new. However, they have grown increasingly symbolic of a society that has lost its bearings. If we seek meaning behind the tragedy in Tuscan on January 8, 2011, meaning loses its meaning.
The picture emerges of an increasingly disturbed young man with obvious pathologies the “system” was unable to protect or to protect others from. “Odd” behavior in college classes led school authorities to insist that a condition of re-admittance would be an psychological assessment that he was not a danger to himself or others. That solution was not forthcoming nor sufficiently motivating to prompt the pursuit of help. The school could do no more and assumed legal risks to do even that. The rights of the criminally insane are no less sacrosanct than those “the rest of us” enjoy.
A young girl was at the supermarket parking lot excited to see her Congresswoman. To her family she was the bright spot in a bleak era. Born on 9/11, she offered promise that all is not lost. Hope springs eternal and to her family she represented life from the ashes. Indiscriminately gunned down, her family struggles to understand why.
A federal judge, no stranger to controversy was himself the target of death threats for decisions he had made from the bench. Yet he refused to be intimidated by “the crazies”. A random victim, he was not the target of the gunman’s wrath, but merely an innocent bystander.
A Congresswoman, not noted for controversy, but for statesmanship. She was considered a legislator concerned about the problems most people face and especially focused on the marginalized in society. Her synagogue gathered in prayer for her recovery on Sunday morning following the shooting and lauded her courage, her compassion and her commitment to her constituents. She seems to have made few enemies in her public service. To the contrary she was loved by many. She was gunned down at one of her trademark Congress on the Corner events where she took government to the people she represented.
There were sixteen other gunshot victims as well. The ironies of this tragedy are poignantly illustrated by these few.
Some suggest that this event will mark the low point of intolerance in our culture. I hope they are right. Some say that incivility has reached its limit in this tragedy. I support them in their aspiration.
However, search for both meaning and systemic solutions may be equally illusory. Insanity has no reason. Irrational behavior neither can be predicted nor bounded by social convention or security measures.
Instead, cultivating a culture of consultation might assist our society in better addressing the ills of the Tragedy in Tuscon. Clearly, Congresswoman Giffords was dedicated to this work. Her rabbi stated that she was engaged in the work of “repairing the world”. The Saturday event was organized by the Congresswoman’s organizer of community outreach, Gabriel Zimmerman. Of him it was said, “He was great with really difficult people, with people who were angry and upset; he was a peacemaker.” Mr. Zimmerman died in the onslaught working as a peacemaker.
There are no guarantees that the work of peacemaking is safe, comfortable or appreciated by all. However, giving up is not an option.
Our hearts and prayers go out to all the victims of the Tragedy in Tuscon. Let’s work hard to not let the work of peacemaking be another victim. That hope can be our anchor “on the other side of despair.”