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Horror, Sorrow, and Anger

Up until a few days ago, I had never heard of Sandy Hook Elementary School.   Now, like just about everyone else in the world who has access to the news, I’ve become intimately familiar with the name.  I don’t know what to say about the massacre; the horror and sorrow I’m feeling – the sadness I can’t seem to shake – isn’t unique.  Anyone with a child – or a heart – is reeling.

flag_half_staffI have not talked to my kids about what happened, with the exception of Kevin, and to him only briefly.  On Friday, I lowered the flag in our front yard to half staff, and when the kids got home from school, they wanted to know why it was lowered.  I told them that we do that to honor people who have died, and they wanted to know who had died.  “Some people far away in a different state,” I told them.  How can I tell my kids that someone went into an elementary school and gunned down teachers and little children?  At almost 16, Kevin wasn’t satisfied with that explanation, so I told him briefly what happened in Connecticut, but I couldn’t even finish without having to swallow back tears.

I have refused to read any articles or watch any news segments about it – what’s the point?  Nevertheless, it’s impossible to sign online without seeing headlines: “NEW CHILLING DETAILS EMERGE” and “VICTIMS’ FAMILIES REACT” and “PROFILE OF A KILLER” and “FUNERALS SET FOR THREE OF THE VICTIMS.”  Words like “pimp” and “ratings” come to mind.

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who
Comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam
In her eye
It’s interesting when people die-
Give us dirty laundry

Dirty Laundry, Don Henley

I don’t want to know the details.  I don’t want to see the photos of the sweet, smiling faces of those little boys and girls whose lives were so ruthlessly cut short.  And I’ll tell you: if I were any of their parents, I think having the details and photos splashed relentlessly across every news outlet would be the last thing I would want.  Even reading the headlines makes me feel like a voyeur.  Is the media just filling a demand?  Are we the people just feeding the media machine with our morbid curiosity?  If all the coverage promotes meaningful discussion about the underlying issues and encourages people to lobby for change with regard to gun control and how we approach mental illness, then perhaps it will have been a positive force.

We let those teachers and kids down.  We as a nation value our personal freedoms more than we value other people’s very lives.  We are a nation in shock and mourning now after Friday’s horror, but it wasn’t the first school shooting here in the US – although it perhaps claimed the youngest victims.  Mall shootings and school shootings seem to be gaining popularity – and this kind of thing doesn’t happen in other civilized countries.  How many mall shootings, how many school shootings, how many people have to be senselessly murdered before we take a good hard look at the way we do things here and make meaningful changes?

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”

– President Obama

The religious rhetoric is everywhere.  I understand that people take comfort where they can, and it’s in the face of tragedy like this that, I suppose, the appeal and attraction of God and religion are at their most powerful, but if we lull ourselves with dreamy images of children running to Jesus and playing in paradise forevermore, we are doing nothing but living with our heads in the clouds, and effectively trivializing what happened.  In effect, these fairy tales justify what happened, and they don’t encourage meaningful dialogue about important issues.

It’s starting to feel dangerous just to be alive.  I don’t want to live in fear, but it’s hard to not walk around without at least a vague sense of apprehension.  I deeply hope that this latest tragedy brings about meaningful change; if it doesn’t, then all those little lives cut short will really have been for nothing at all.

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On Being a Bleeding Heart Liberal

As I was leaving the grocery store yesterday, I passed a car in the parking lot that had this bumper sticker displayed:

 

It made me feel angry and sickened.  What a crock of shit.

What I want to know is: what do you consider to be “welfare”?

I suspect that when most people think of “welfare,” what they think about is food stamps and checks rolling in to pay for (undeserved) living expenses.  I think to a lot of people, the idea of “welfare” conjures up images of a trashy mom, obese from the fruits of her food stamps, parked on a sofa, chain-smoking and eating Doritos and watching Jerry Springer on the tube as her ten children from ten different fathers by turns slurp Coca Cola from their baby bottles, graffiti the neighborhood as they ditch school, and corrupt the good children from hardworking families with drugs and foul language.

I’m sure there are people out there exactly like that.  But you don’t really believe that that picture represents the majority of people on “welfare,” do you?  Do you think anybody likes being poor?  Do you think very many people are proud to collect government assistance?  And do you really believe that very many people who are on welfare are living high on the hog?  Sure, there is definitely welfare fraud going on, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about people who humbly tap into a resource that allows them to feed their children, and to eke out an existence that is still probably considered poverty-level.

Why do the Haves begrudge the Have-Nots so vehemently and meanly?  Why are so many people so deeply invested in the Mine-Mine-Mine! mindset?  How is it that many of the same politically conservative people who out of one side of their mouths insist that the United States of America was founded on Christian values and that we, as a country, have strayed too far away from those values insist out of the other side of their mouths that those who are less fortunate, those who have fallen on hard times or who were born into hard times, are moochers and parasites?  Isn’t helping those who are less fortunate a basic Christian tenet?  Shouldn’t it be a basic human tenet?

Why are so many people so hypocritical – and they don’t even see it?

Consider this: “welfare” is not merely food stamps.  “Welfare” is defined as –

. . . the provision of a minimal level of wellbeing and social support for all citizens. In most developed countries, welfare is largely provided by the government, in addition to charities, informal social groups, religious groups, and inter-governmental organizations. In the end, this term replaces “charity” as it was known for thousands of years, being the voluntary act of providing for those who temporarily or permanently could not.

***

Welfare systems differ from country to country, but Welfare is commonly provided to individuals who are unemployed, those with illness or disability, the elderly, those with dependent children, and veterans.

It is fair and accurate to say, then, that “welfare” encompasses any program designed to provide medical, monetary, or other assistance at the expense of taxpayers.  That means – and I’m talking to you, my friends in the Down syndrome community – Medicaid, early intervention services, respite care, and diapers from Regional Center.  If you have taken advantage of any of those, then you, my friend, have received welfare.  Should anyone begrudge you that?  Does it make you a moocher or a parasite?

Maybe the person who owns that car with that bumper sticker has never, ever received anything on the taxpayers’ dime.  But what would that person do if, by some catastrophe, they lost everything?   What would that person do if they had a child with a disability and that child needed therapy or extensive medical intervention?

It’s funny how it’s a whole different story when the circumstances come home to roost.