Culture and Society

Thoughts and Prayers

I try not to write about gun violence.  The gun violence won’t let me though.

In the three years I’ve hosted this blog, I’ve written 200 essays, give or take. 11 of them have been in the wake of mass shootings so sensationally horrific that writing about anything else would have been inappropriate.

Here’s number 12. 

Next month is the five-year anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. From time to time I feel it necessary to say, out loud, what happened there. Because things fade in the human memory in a problematic way. We remember facts and people and dates. We remember faces. We can call them back into the front of our mind when we need to in order to serve a purpose.

But we can’t do that with what we felt. Our emotions, as felt in the time that we feel them wash away with the tide of time.

We can’t feel the same sadness we felt that day.

We can’t feel the same horror.

We can’t feel the same outrage.

But we can remember what happened.

A man walked into a classroom of first graders with multiple assault weapons and shot them at point blank range. He killed six adults too. But six adults getting shot drifts into our distant memory relatively quickly these days.

It’s the kids that stick.

When I think of that shooting and those kids, I can’t help but think about something an old teammate said to me when I was in the military.

“I can’t really overstate the impact of modern ammunition of the human body” he said.

He was a gnarly old SEAL senior enlisted. And he’d seen his fair share of war and firefights. I had to take his word for it. The carnage I saw was always done by IEDs and landmines.

It was a tough thought to shake though.

Six and seven year olds, the same age as my oldest son at the time, dressed in little clothes with their favorite characters on them.

Cars, and Finding Nemo were my son’s favorites. Likely some of their’s too.

Hiding. Scared. Crying. Their small bodies ripped to shreds.

They wouldn’t understand. They would call for their parents.

“I can’t really overstate the impact of modern ammunition on the human body.”  

It was 11 days before Christmas. What did they do with the presents?

What the fuck did they do with the presents?

I’m usually pretty vague about what I used in the service.  It was complicated. I was a ship driver that didn’t drive many ships. By some odd turn of events, like many that served in the never-ending war of my generation, I was repurposed. I built a new skill. That skill was hunting and finding terrorists.

I didn’t go and get them. Someone else did. But I found them. And I green-lighted the missions.

There was just enough separation between me and the bad guys most of the time for me to sterilize it all. Over time, it got easy to forget that there were people on the other end of those missions. Both on my side and the other. The important tension required to keep your humanity lessened. When that tension was gone all together, things could get ugly.

From time to time, something happened that would bring it back. Like the time the target wasn’t home because his family had rushed to the hospital when their toddler drank kerosene. Or the time that we had to find two brothers. One was using his mentally handicapped brother to plant bombs.

I remember thinking about how he would have to teach him to do it, the way I would have to teach my autistic son do make sure he got dressed every day.

First bombs. Then play.

First bombs. Then treat.

I remember the pictures of the small children killed in a suicide bomb at a funeral in some dusty outpost in western Iraq.

These were people with lives. And hopes. And dreams. They loved someone. And someone love them. Someone hugged them and said I love you daddy as they were lifted into bed at the end of the day.

They were humans. Every one of them.

Part of the deal of doing that work, was remembering that. It’s the hardest part. Sterilizing it was easy and dangerous.

This morning a man walked into a church in Texas and killed at least 26 people. A pregnant woman and a five-year old child and the 14-year old daughter of the pastor were among the victims.

This is something that happens in America. It doesn’t happen anywhere else with any regularity. But it happens here a lot.

Of the thirty deadliest shootings in a country with a long and storied history of shootings, 18 have happened in the last ten years.

We’ve had shootings of 59, 49 and 26 in the last 18 months.

The sphere of people executing these murders has expanded. What was once something reserved for the deeply disturbed is now something done by politically motivated or otherwise functioning adults with no explanation at all for their mass murder.

We should expect that pattern to continue. And we should expect the instances of mass shootings to increase.

I don’t know why. I won’t try to guess.

Our defense, for now, is thoughts and prayers.

So here are mine.

There were 26 people going to church with their families, the way I did this morning. There was a pregnant mother praying for the future of her child. A child that will live to see us walk on Mars, move beyond fossil fuels and cure cancer.

There was an innocent kindergartner fidgeting nervously in a seat.

There was a pastor leading a service in his church worshipping his God and watching his daughter pray.

And they’ve all collided with the one thought that never gets too far from the front of my mind in the aftermath of a mass shooting.

“I can’t really overstate the impact of modern ammunition on the human body.”  

And then the horror comes after.

Those are my thoughts. I have a prayer too.

It’s a simple one. It’s apolitical. If it doesn’t feel that way, that’s on you. My prayer is that one day we agree that we want this to end. And that we get to work on ending it.

I have no idea how. But it’s probably not with thoughts and prayers alone.

 

10 replies »

  1. Mr. Hughes, I don’t know what happened to the rational, moderate conservative block of the Republican Party, but take care, good sir. Sadly, I do not see you winning the hearts and minds of your people.

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  2. Agreed.
    Fair winds, we have the watch now. For those youngsters that won’t releive us anymore, for your kids and mine, we still continue to push for a better future.

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  3. Ok so now you’ve just gone and made me cry at my desk. No, thoughts and prayers alone will do nothing. One of our staff members was at the Las Vegas event with 2 of our clients and they ran for their lives. One of them has decided to parlay the traumatic experience into sane gun policy advocacy… here’s one recent link. http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/congress-deadly-negligence-guns-article-1.3607524 I pray consistently and I do believe it works. But as I posted last night on FB, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” 2James:26

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  4. In response to your thought: “My prayer is that one day we agree that we want this to end. And that we get to work on ending it.
    I have no idea how. But it’s probably not with thoughts and prayers alone.”

    My question is: Do we need to rethink the conversation we have when we discuss gun violence? (Or violence in general?)

    Let’s assume that the dominant conversation that occurs after these events is one that centers around blame: blaming the perpetrator(s); blaming the weapons they used; blaming politics; blaming mental health (only a few examples I can think of, if there are more, please add to the list).

    What is blame? Blame, according to one definition in the Oxford dictionary, implies “Responsibility for anything wrong, culpability”. Who is responsible in these incidents? Is it just the perpetrator(s)? The weapon(s)? Politicians/legislation? Are we all responsible?

    What is responsibility? Again, the Oxford dictionary explains responsibility as: “Capability of fulfilling an obligation or duty; the quality of being reliable or trustworthy”. Don’t we, by agreeing to live in society, adhere to certain obligations towards each other? In other words, by trying to live with each other do we not try to fulfill the obligation/duty of allowing each other to live as peaceably as possible?

    At the risk of turning this into a long essay, or even a freakin’ book, I’m going to leave these questions for all of us to consider. I concede I may not be asking the questions in the most effective manner, and I may be limited in how I am trying to flush out this issue. Maybe we can help each other better understand the questions we should be asking, so we can have a more productive conversation.

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  5. Reblogged this on PatiRolf and commented:
    I love how this man writes. I read this and it stirred in my mind what happened this weekend in Texas when I was down there officiating at Baylor and UT Arlington. We are Americans, something that my friends all over the world find fascinating. We escaped poverty and oppression and came to America. We believe in the rights of others and in their inalienable right to privacy and freedoms. So let me tell you a story, I was flying Delta this weekend and was in Atlanta on a layover, we arrived a little late and had to hustle to our gates. A gate near mine had closed and around a half dozen folks from another flight rushed to the door but it was closed and no one was going to open it. A young african american woman came out of the closed door after securing the departing flight and informed these folks that the gate door was not going to open. People were upset, the plane was right there why not. I agreed with them, I have never understood this. When you have that large number of people, get them on. A moment later a middle aged white male starts yelling at this young woman, I mean yelling. He is pointing, screaming and threatening. No one in that group or folks standing around did anything. I am a waiting, waiting for someone to step up. But this is America, he is mad, she deserves it. So typical. In officiating this is the same, in fact in many families, this is the norm. A wife/girlfriend does not perform well, the husband/man abuses her. So I said enough. I walked up to the man and told him to stop. He told me to F off. This is the kind of man that needs help. This is the kind of man that is killing We the People. This is the kind of man that killed the We the People in a Texas church. Women are not the problem, men are being raised in American homes, schools, churches and the military in ways that are undermining their futures and the futures of their families and others. Women and men need to step up and stop the violence against women and others.

    Something else that has me often flabbergasted. While in Texas at Baylor when someone asked me about my daughter, how she was doing. I told them as I often do that she just cracks me up. That she was now going to South Korea to teach and go to school. I was hoping someplace close like Madison maybe, if anything maybe Edinburgh, Scotland where she had been accepted before she had decided on NYU. No, while I was officiating in Turkey she texted me and told me she had decided. It was going to be South Korea. These folks in Texas looked at me and said, “wow, aren’t you worried about that. With North Korea the way it it”. This was before this horrifying event in Texas. I find it fascinating, our country is one of the most dangerous for it citizens. Yet we look at other countries with a complete lack of awareness, we are one of the most violent countries in the world for our women and children. For African American men, for many of our people. It’s this independence that is our most amazing characteristic but also our achilles heel. We mind our own business and allow others to do the same. We must start a movement of all all of us to protect our own, not just our own family, our own people. Even those we do not know. We have to protect them from violence, oppression and mistreatment. Even if they may have made a mistake. To show love and empathy even if what they have done has had a negative impact on someone, someone like the white man at the Delta gate. I am asking all of us to open our eyes and look around you. Look outward and help others, regardless of the situation.

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  6. People say it could never happen here, when will the response turn to I expected this to happen here. That is the way I feel. The biggest threat to my safety is not amorphous terrorism, it is a specific terrorism, the angry white guy with an arsenal of guns. I fully expect it could happen here. It seems like only a matter of time. Maybe this will be different cause this was a white church getting shot up, unlike the black church. But probably not. More people were killed than in NYC this week. That was called terrorism, the church shooting was not. Why? My cynical guess is that these are Trump people and he does not want to anger them, he only wants them to be afraid of the other, not the monsters within their midst.

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    • Now is a good time to try to put the cynicism aside. Angry white guys, white churches, black churches, Trump people, and the monsters within our midst are all Americans…. More we – less us and them – we’re truly all in this together.

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  7. Unfortunately many of us have become resigned/exhausted by the governments inability to do something about all the violence, both verbal and physical. We’re not sure what, if anything, we
    can do to stop it other than comfort those who have felt it first hand.

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