Mass Shootings: Can We Escape The New Normal?

Entrance to Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.

Entrance to Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.

On Sunday, President Obama spoke to comfort the families of the victims involved in the tragic Navy Yard shootings. He quoted from the Greek poet Aeschylus, as had Senator Robert Kennedy speaking after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968:

“Even in our sleep, pain, which we cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

It used to be just Columbine. “Remember Columbine,” you could say, and the people you were speaking to would nod and drop their gaze, thinking of the students rushing out of that school building, the officers coming to get them, the anguish on their faces. But now, it’s Tucson, it’s Aurora, it’s Newtown, it’s Fort Hood, it’s the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. and the pain is overwhelming. And outside the U.S., it’s Pakistan and Kenya, too.

When the Columbine massacre happened in 1999, it consumed the news media, the newspapers, the magazines. So many conversations began with, “Have you heard about the shooting at that high school?” or, “Did you see the pictures of the two students who did it?” But now, since similarly horrific shootings are happening so frequently, we start to see the “creeping resignation” that the President mentioned in his speech on Sunday of a “new normal.”

The pain President Obama clearly felt, the anger he barely suppressed, the faces of the families at that event — all of these images are becoming too familiar. But is it really destined to become normal?

In truth, right now, while we grieve for every loss of life, we are no longer in significant pain.  We’re becoming numb. Our collective witnessing so many mass shootings is leading us to a point where we really are starting to get used to them. When I watched the President deliver that line near the end of his speech, I wanted to argue with him:  it can’t be true. How can the greatest nation on earth be at the same time the most violent?

There’s another theme that is running alongside this terrible surge in violence and it’s an interest in worldwide prayer.  It is remarkable that these two events co-exist. We have seen prayer events bringing thousands of individuals together to pray for priests, for general discipleship, for peace in Syria, and, coming up this weekend, Harvest America will be encouraging people via all manner of social media outlets to embrace Jesus and his teachings. But not one of these events asks the participants to stand up together and denounce violence.

I wait for this event. I wait for the religious community to get together and declare peace. Imagine if everyone stopped praying, got up off their knees, and shouted together that violence must end.

Anne Born is a New York-based writer who has been writing stories and poetry since childhood.  While her children were enrolled in New York City public schools in the late 1990s, she edited and published The Backpack Press, and the CSDIII News, a monthly newsletter covering all public schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  She blogs on Open Salon and Red Room and her writing focuses on family and life in a big city after growing up in a small one.  She is also a photographer who specializes in photos of churches, cemeteries, and the Way of St. James in Spain.  Most of her writing is done on the bus.  www.about.me/anneborn. You can follow Anne on Twitter at @nilesite.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License/Tim Evanson

  • Amy McVay Abbott

    Anne, I fully agree with you that we are not using the power of our collective selves to advance the agenda of non-violence. Have we forgotten all the great teachings of MLK and Gandhi? This was a marvelous, thought-provoking piece.

  • Anne Born

    Thank you, Amy. It’s so frustrating to me that all of this gathering, harvesting, and praying is going on and nothing is being done to corral everyone to, as Nancy Reagan famously said, “Just say no” to violent behavior. Stop spanking your children, stop abusing nursing home patients, stop arguing on the bus, stop road rage, stop sending our troops overseas. It brings out the latent hippie in me.

  • Joan Haskins

    Anne, I don’t know any other way except to start with the kids. Yoga, meditation, talking about kindness, peace, teaching conflict resolution… teachers and parents have an enormous job in front of them, but there’s no other choice.
    Thank you for this important piece.

  • Anne Born

    Thank you! The best way is also very simple, isn’t it?

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