You can’t ban the violent verbal appropriation of tragedy, even if the AR-15 gets banned for its capacity to quickly mow down a crowd in Connecticut, or Colorado, or Florida.
When did we begin weaponizing tragedy? Beyond the forensic facts of a crime scene – beyond reconstruction of events, beyond witness statements, beyond “exhibit A,” beyond the medical examiner’s autopsy reports, beyond the reams of law enforcement paperwork and overtime (it takes a lot of man hours to process a giant crime scene, someone has to pay for it), beyond carefully worded statements to the press –
Beyond all that, tragedies become viral, a toxic cloud seeping across internet connections like the poison fumes of a chemical or biological weapon.
Who needs sarin gas anymore? You can throw a whole nation and government into shrill chaos with a few rounds of ammo and a death wish. A chemical weapon is faster, but depression, anxiety, fear, vitriol, isolation, anger? Subtle. Insidious. Priceless. Who holds the 9/11 perpetrators legally responsible for shaping the psyche of an entire generation, after all?
Those who were in Kindergarten or camp or college on September 11th became the new, postmodern Pearl Harbor generation: where reports of the attacks on Hawaii came to a family huddled around a radio, footage was replayed over and over again on cable news and friends huddled around the television realizing, in a vaccinated, seat-belted, choking-hazard era, that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
If you want to understand college students or twentysomethings or even early thirtysomethings, ask them about 9/11. Many of them still live at “home” with their parents or stepparents. Wonder why? Pundits explain generational traits and economic forces but maybe it’s something simpler, more childlike. Maybe they need stabilizing comfort.
Maybe they’re afraid.
Maybe the views of many of them on human sexuality have shifted so quickly because in an age of terror and depression who is anyone to say you can’t find comfort in a loving relationship? Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
Multiple Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda – the true genius who penned Hamilton – spoke clearly about the impact of 9/11 on him in a moving commencement address he gave at (previously religious, now secular) Wesleyan University, his alma mater. The New Yorker was in college when someone gave him the news of the attack. One friend’s parent was spared. The other was not. Mortality, hope, loss, and courage are major themes in the hip-hop musical about the brilliant and haunted founding father.
Miranda was shaken at the Tony’s by the events in Orlando and the sonnet he wrote as his acceptance speech included the following:
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
until they’re finished songs and start to play
when senseless acts of tragedy remind us
that nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers.
We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger.
We rise and fall, and light from dying embers,
remembrances that hope and love last longer
cannot be killed or swept aside…
Meanwhile while Hamilton owned the Tony Awards, Twitter and Facebook and blogs and talking heads exploded with reactions to the horrific tragedy in Orlando. Talk about a perfect storm: guns, gays and Muslims. Of course, none of that matters when it’s your loved one whose wounds are measured and probed in a morgue: when it’s your loved one you’ll never get to hug again.
Cable news gives lip service to the actual lives lost with somber music and a few seconds of photos of victims – but they don’t donate their profits to survivors when the ratings go up during a tragedy. They should. There’s a term for people who make money off of terrorism. It’s “arms dealers.”
So maybe you’re not the CEO of a cable network. We still find ways to weaponize tragedy whether or not we fiscally profit from it. Almost immediately people began picking up #orlando and using it as a rhetorical rocket-propelled grenade. This is why we need gun control, now. This is why we need to stop the immigration of Muslims, now. This is why we need to expose marriage traditionalists as the hate mongerers that they are, now. This is why we need to stop hating and start loving, now. This is why…this is why…this is why…
It’s a tragedy, and that’s sad, but hey, it helps make my point.
Maybe one of the best Tweets came from Rev. Carolyn Moore (@CarolynCMoore): “If you are straight, white and Christian then compassion, restraint and prayer are the better part of wisdom.” Indeed.
Simplicity may be the best response. Give blood. Hug a loved one. Hug a white stranger or a brown stranger or a straight stranger or a gay stranger. Breathe in: Lord, have mercy. Breathe out: Christ, have mercy.
We have enough weapons and enough tragedy. We don’t need to weaponize tragedy to promote our beliefs. It’s just too ironic.