This year marks the 21st anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.
For those of you old enough to remember, it was a shocking and violent event that we could not conceive would happen in the United States.
In the ensuing years, it has become painfully clear that Columbine was not an aberration. It has also become horrifyingly clear that we don’t really want to end gun violence in this country.
How do I know that? Because once again last Friday, we awoke to news of another mass shooting, and we instantly knew nothing would change.
If you aren’t sure which shooting I mean, that’s because there are so many, and it’s hard to keep up—they keep coming.
Was it Georgia? Was it Boulder? Was it Orange County? Good guesses, but it was the FedEx shooting in Indianapolis. There have been more, and who knows how many there will be by the time you read this.
If it’s Friday, it must be Indianapolis. If it’s Sunday, it must be Austin. How is it possible that there are so many mass shootings that I have to be geographically specific?
I mourn, of course, for the innocent lives lost, but I sense in my countrymen a collective deeper somberness. It is something close to an abandonment of hope. It’s an awareness—deep down where scary things lurk—that nobody is ever going to do anything about gun violence.
This is the new normal. Nothing is going to change. Ever. There will be more mass shootings. We all know it. It’s just a question of when and where.
There was another shooting on Sunday. Kenosha. They keep coming. There’s another one: Shreveport. A blog piece can’t keep up; someone needs to scroll a live running total across the screen as they do for the stock market on news channels.
Gun violence is relentless and getting worse, and nobody is even pretending we are doing anything to stop it.
Does anyone remember El Paso, San Bernardino, or Sutherland Springs? Thousand Oaks? How about Highlands Ranch or Sandy Hook? San Ysidro, anyone? Aztec High School? Granite Hills High School? High school shootings in Parkland, Santa Clarita, and Santa Fe? Are you pissed off yet? Las Vegas?
The list continues to grow. Nothing changes and the truly disheartening thing is that nothing will.
We have come to accept this state of affairs as normal. Oh sure, there are voices of outrage. There are calls for action. I can hear some of you say we haven’t accepted this as normal.
“Not me,” you say, “I haven’t.” Okay, then prove it. Get out of your mindfulness cocoon and do something.
We’ve heard the President say that if America has the collective will, this country can do anything it sets its mind to do. So why can’t we end gun violence? The answer is crushing but clear. We do nothing to end gun violence because we do not want to.
The Indianapolis shooter had a history of mental illness. Last year, reports of his erratic behavior and suicidal ideation caused authorities to confiscate his gun. After his gun was seized, he legally purchased the two assault weapons he used in the FedEx shooting. How is that even possible?
We have accepted that gun violence is just a fact of modern American life. We have accepted that our right to bear assault weapons is sacrosanct and that mass shootings are the price we have to pay to live in a free society.
I hope that statement angers you. If it does, that’s great.
The problem is, there is not enough anger going around. If there was, things would change. I hear gun enthusiasts say they have a God-given right to bear arms. That’s not only sacrilegious; it is utter bullsh*t: the right to bear arms is in the Second Amendment, not the Ten Commandments.
This is a mindful community, but good God, it’s tough to be mindful these days. Let go, they say, or be dragged. The problem is, if everyone lets go, nothing will change. To paraphrase Greta Thunberg, “I don’t want you to let go. I want you to be angry.”
Refuse to let go, please. I beg you. It’s not a matter of being dragged. It’s a matter of making a difference. We were all put on this planet for a reason. The universe has a plan for all of us. We are not here just to occupy space, maybe reproduce, and emit carbon into the atmosphere for a few decades, and then leave. We are here to make a difference on this planet.
These turbulent times are crying out for you to do something. They do not want to be let go of; they are daring you to slay them. They want you to grab them and fight back. If gun violence isn’t your thing, there are so many opportunities to make a difference: climate change, institutional racism, income inequality, and lurking American fascism, for starters.
All of those things are becoming more intractable, which stews in my brain and gets me all riled up.
I’m worried, too. Then I get angry that I have to worry. Maybe it’s a vicious cycle, but it’s challenging to stay focused in the present moment when my head feels like it’s about to explode.
As a longtime practitioner of mindfulness and as someone who frequently leads guided meditations, I have always been the calm one in the storm. I am the mellow presence in the room who can be counted on to bring flaring tempers down a notch. These days though, I no longer desire to be the calm one.
The truth is, I want to be angry. Maybe I even need to be angry. Maybe deep down, I recognize that from anger grows passion. Sometimes I feel that it is only through anger that we can make any changes.
It takes passionate devotion to a cause to make a change.
Things don’t change because we want them to; things change because we make them change. Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers—he did not say blessed are the peaceful. Peacemaking is a call to action, not to mindfulness.
If mindfulness is all about letting go and moving on, then I don’t want to do it anymore.