Monday, June 13, 2016

When the Unthinkable Becomes Commonplace

“We musicians, like everyone else, are numb with sorrow at this murder, and with rage at the senselessness of the crime. But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” 
                                             - Leonard Bernstein after the Kennedy Assassination

What do you do when the unthinkable becomes commonplace? When the next statistic of innocent people shot down is served up with your morning toast next to Steph Curry’s points? When Columbine, Newton, Charleston, San Bernadino and now Orlando become Anytown, U.S.A.? When “tragedy” becomes the norm?

If you’re smart and brave and courageous, you would take to the streets with pen in hand and not rest until the millions of petitioned signatures finally shut down the NRA’s stranglehold and their twisted, distorted and shameless idea of “freedom.” You would shout and scream and whisper and talk about places like Australia that changed gun laws after one mass shooting and it never happened again. You would question how hard and expensive it is to ship books across borders, but how easy with guns. You would wonder why every other commercial in the NBA Finals shows men with assault weapons in the next shoot-‘em-up movie, question why we are flooding our children through video games and movies with guns as the norm in day-to-day life even though people like me—and thank goodness—have never seen one in public other than on the police and never held one or shot one or (thank goodness) needed to.

But instead of shutting down the shameless lack of the most simple restrictions buying assault weapons of destruction, we shut down ourselves and go back to posting on Facebook what a great meal we just had. And understandably so. Who can hold in their hearts the thought that people are so crazed and lonely and filled with hate that they can just walk into a room and murder innocent people? Who can fathom the culture’s approval of arming such people so easily? Who can come to grips with the toxic air of our national discourse, with a Presidential candidate spreading a message of hate and exclusion to the wild, cheering crowds? Who is large enough to keep hope and healing and humanitarian caring alive in the midst of every reason to despair?

Not me. But I try anyway. What other choice is there? Martin Williams once wrote of jazz:

“…(Jazz) denies little in human capability—not sadness, not pain, not anger. But it does deny hopelessness and it does deny despair. It leads us to consider our inner complexities and affirms our contradictions and our basic humanity. It tells us that because of that humanity, we will survive. It does not merely make our livers more bearable, it makes them more meaningful.”

I imagine both Leonard Bernstein and Martin Williams would also support sensible gun laws while re-devoting themselves to beauty. And do I.  Won’t you?

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