Surviving the Whiplashes of History and American Gun-Culture Violence

There comes a day, sometimes, when it seems all that there remains to do is to sit and weep, staring out at the world through tears of salt, gazing through windows of murky glass. Seeing leaves, earth, sky, rain, even the path of the wind in tall grass. But not seeing. No, not really.

Where reason should dwell, there’s naught but a void.

Disembodied voices whisper, “Numb.”

“Numb.” “Lack of feeling.”

But that’s not true. There’s no lack of feeling. Every neuron palpates, thrums. Every tooth aches in clenched jaws. Eyelids flutter open, then close to shut out the light. Anything but numb. Feeling drills down, all the way to sinews clasping muscle to bone, quivering like tightly wound violin strings, stinging, burning.

How did the people of the past survive constant onslaughts of wanton, random violence;  ferociousness of diseases that swept away whole villages overnight; sudden lethal batterings of brutal storms; packs of marauding wolves in menacing forests; public hangings and executions and droit du seigneur? Fear, yes, fear. Their Sundays spent huddling in cold stone churches, Latin words they didn’t understand rolling over them, incense- and candle-riddled rituals assuring them that they walked through Life hand in hand with God.

And Evil – Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub, Lucifer, Old Nick – walked behind them, ever ready to pounce at the slightest weakness, the merest transgression.

It seems that much of Life has changed little over the centuries, in spite of the great technological advances of the current age. In Ken Burns’s epic documentary on Vietnam, one interviewee suggests that humans didn’t get to be apex predators because they’re nice. William Golding explored this theme well in his disturbing book, Lord of the Flies.

Civilization, in other words, wears a very thin coat. Perhaps Old Nick still shadows us.

It’s time for us to rebuild our house, as it were, to open the door hanging on its hinges, step into the splintery ruins, peer into the cracked mirror hanging on the wall in the hall. And see what stares back. Dark as it may be.*

*Paraphrasing the meaning behind 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see through a glass, darkly” (KJV).  My condolences to all victims of violence, especially gun-related.  Having lived in a community rent by gun violence – Virginia Tech 2007, I know something of how sudden violence tears at the veneer of civilization and one’s sense of equilibrium in the world.

© 2017 C. Bertelsen

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