I have just survived another “Independence Day” celebration complete with three nights of experiencing myself as being under ruthless attack by not so anonymous neighbors who began the weekend with deafening explosions that intermittently assaulted my nervous system. Semi-automatic weapons also punctuated the monstrous three-day weekend splitting the air with their “mindless” gun power at all times of the day. Like drones at war. Last night was the finale. For two and a half hours we were forced to listen to fireworks exploding like bombs and then echoing blindly around our mountain valley.
All my efforts to protect myself – closing all windows, exchanging the screen door for winter glass, using ear-plugs and wearing professional ear protectors could not keep out the ear-splitting cacophony. My two dogs stared at me with deeply troubled eyes. Wasn’t there something I could do? they begged. “It won’t last forever,” I responded with heartfelt compassion, the only sane reply I could make to their pitiful query (which was also an attempt to comfort myself). When the auditory attack finally ended, I realized I had a horrible backache. My body, unable to withstand the assault at a cellular level was keening. Was she also filled with blind rage? I hugged my dogs and opened the window so we could listen to toad trills and the night symphony, but although the darkness was still sweet the toads and frogs had fallen silent. Like us they were probably exhausted. We three spent a restless waking night…
Target shooting and gunning (everyday occurrences here in our mountain valley) take on a more sinister aspect around holidays. New Year’s Eve, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July, are celebrations that bring out the killers in full force. War games complete with all the necessary victims, living beings, human and non-human, whose nervous systems recoil at blunt auditory force, not simply because our bodies can’t deal with the chaos, but because of what we sense is happening beneath the noise – we feel the intent to kill, maim, dismember, overpowering us. Death is in the air. And we are powerless to stop the assault.
This morning I reflected upon my distressing response to this third night of the weekend attack. After the first hour, I heard myself thinking a violent thought – like how much I wished these people were dead. I would like to say that this persistent recurring phrase was a simple exaggerated reaction but it wouldn’t be true. For every moment I thought it, I did wish people dead. Worse, I recognized the pit of pure hatred I had fallen into as a result of feeling victimized. I knew from prior life experience that I had to shut down this kind of thinking immediately and I was able to do so with some concentrated effort. I couldn’t afford to become part of that problem. The conclusion I reached for the millionth time is that violence breeds more violence, and no human being is immune. I find this perception terrifying.
Perhaps equally troubling was a conversation I had this weekend with a dear friend, a mother of two adolescent boys, both of which are developing violent tendencies that are being ignored. In this family it is now acceptable to discuss the many ways to blow up geese, I discovered on Saturday while listening to dad and the boys laughing uncontrollably at their own ruthlessness.
The following day my friend complained about her husband and sons’ violent conversation, which apparently occurred quite frequently around the dinner table. However, almost in the same breath she also said that she understood why people believed they needed to carry around firearms to protect themselves because the world had become too dangerous. I was shocked because up until recently this woman and I shared the belief that violence engendered more violence and that guns would not solve our cultural crisis of escalating human (and non-human) slaughter.
My first thought was that she was protecting her oldest son who had become a gun carrying “red-neck” by his own description. He had not yet turned eighteen and still lived at home, though he did have a job. He shot anything that moved. I remembered him as a child, bright, a budding naturalist, a little boy that I loved. What happened? What flashed into my mind next was an image of her youngest, also a teenager, throwing an ax at a helpless tree, wounding it horribly in the process. And his bloodless stare. My gut response to this adolescent’s behavior was to shudder involuntarily as I made the decision to leave the premises. This tree was being wounded so that some kid could have “fun.”
What had happened to my woman friend’s perspective on violence? Was she losing her reality under the force of this dominant male family ideology? Patriarchy has such dark roots. As I empathized with her as a mother, I also felt threatened.
I remembered the gun that my brother used to shoot himself just after graduating from Harvard…
When my youngest son (now almost 48) purchased his first weapon a few years ago I was stunned. I thought I had taught both my children well that guns, violence and war were unacceptable…
I remembered that the last time I saw my grandson almost two years ago, he proudly showed me the gun that he purchased on the way to my house. My stomach churned uncontrollably when I saw the deadly weapon. He was finally discharged from the Marines after five years this June at the age of 22. He hasn’t bothered to call me.
At almost 71 I continue to believe that violence breeds violence and that buying more guns to protect ourselves from those that would would harm us is not the answer. Am I simply naive? Perhaps I am deluded? I can’t answer my own questions but I hear the deepest part of myself crying out “No! More guns will only bring us closer to the worst form of human evil in ourselves and in others.”
I choose to listen to that inner voice, and realize that to do so puts me over the edge into a terrifying territory of unknowns.
Postscript: The image at the beginning of this article is of the Lorenz Attractor which is a paradigm for chaos. The idea behind this image is that small changes in initial conditions can create perturbations that can have large effects because sensitivity to initial conditions means that each point in a chaotic system is close to other points with significantly different future paths. Thus a small change in the current trajectory may lead to significantly different behavior. As a metaphor the Butterfly Effect could help us understand that if the initial conditions are predicated on peace, for example, then a change in behavior might be able to create a new kind of peace… To extrapolate the metaphor further, if we uncover the initial conditions under which early cultures lived then we might be able to change our current aggressive behavior. Feminists believe that early cultures did live harmoniously (see Marija Gimbutas). We also know that Indigenous peoples around the world walked lightly on the land and as a whole were peaceable. If feminists are right, we have a chance then to call up the past and build a more peaceable world for the future. Of course critical mass is also an issue because the majority of people must believe and take concrete actions to help make these changes. We have such a long way to go but perhaps there is a sliver of hope for those of us who abhor violence…
I must add that in all fairness from a scientific perspective this explanation regarding the Lorenz attractor and chaos is ridiculously simplistic.
I chose this image because it reminded me of an owl and owls are often associated with wise old women!