Bleeding Heart, No Heart

I have grown comfortable in my role as a total bleeding heart liberal.  I am ridiculed for it on a regular basis.  I think, at least in recent years, arguing with me has become a harrowing experience that weeds out some of the mockery.  But this week something happened that I don’t recall ever having happened to me.  I was the callous one.  I was accused of manipulating emotion for political ends.  I didn’t see it that way.  I was probably at least a little wrong.

There was a mass shooting on Sunday night.  The most destructive mass shooting on record.  I wasn’t arguing about law or policy or anything of that sort when I became the callous one.  I simply disagreed with someone who said it wasn’t a good time to talk about politics and that it was more appropriate to wait until emotions had settled.  I take issue with that.

I was eight when a couple students massacred their classmates at Columbine High.  From that time forward my time in school was dotted with matter-of-fact lectures from sheriff's deputies, permanent resource officers, and regular lockdown drills.  Our public schools were sequestered several times for bomb threats (it wasn't 'countless' times but it was often enough that I don't remember how many), and I was once locked in a classroom for several hours while SWAT was dispatched to the school to handle an active-shooter situation.  It was actually a teacher who mistook a kid running from his car, late, with an ROTC rifle for a real gun – still the specter of armor-clad snipers on the roof of my school is one that is not easily shaken.

Politicians and citizens who had the voice to speak during the two decades that this carnage became normal for millions of children have no right whatsoever to use the extraordinary tragedy - the utterly consuming devastation - the mind bending loss and pain - as an excuse to stifle discussion.

These things are normal for me.  From the time I first left my parents arms for the day, I have known that the best way to avoid a shooter in a hallway is to zig zag from one doorway to the next, alternating sides of the hall.  To know that is sad.  To have learned that before my tenth birthday is existentially depressing.  To wonder if Las Vegas will prompt next year's teachers to teach students how to evade a shooter that they can't see who targets them while they are exposed in an open place (like a schoolyard) is to be completely and irredeemably numb.

I am, to some extent, numb to these tragedies.  This most recent shooting was the worst on record but the phenomenon itself is not unusual.  When I receive the alerts I don't feel surprise.  I don't feel shock.  I just feel sad and brace myself for the regular updates with the tally of its human cost.  The foggy routine of these awful days only parted when I discovered a connection I had to this particular incident.  It was a brief reminder that underneath the routine, my heart still breaks every time.

The day I became numb to them was the day that those with power and with a voice decided that teaching a child how to avoid an active shooter was a suitable substitute for reckoning with a thorny political issue or facing down lobbyists.  I don't claim responsibility for that.  I won't shut up about the issue because those same people suddenly decide treating these incidents as extraordinary is politically advantageous.

I guess I'm numb.  That's done.  My child won't be.  I do claim responsibility for that.  I don't talk enough about this until it happens.  I claim responsibility for that too.  We need to have productive conversations about the right solutions.  I take responsibility for that as well.  But the time to have those conversations is now.  The time to fix this problem is now.  Would fixing it when I was eight have been better?  Yes.  Is waiting until next week – the week after, next month, next year – worse?  

Yes.  It is.  Without a doubt.