This week’s column took an extra day to write. Turns out beating my head against the wall is not conducive to meeting a deadline and gives me one hell of a headache. A nap, two painkillers and a failed quest to locate some therapeutic chocolate in my house later, I forced myself to sit down and try to make some sense of the world in which we live. I’m not optimistic.
Not two weeks ago, I wrote of the futility of a civil national discussion on reasonable gun laws. 70 people dead and injured and I was accused of politicizing a tragedy. It was more than suggested I was indelicate for not waiting a decent amount of time for the nation to grieve. Problem was, not 3 days before that, there was a mass shooting in a bar in Alabama. The nation wasn’t done “grieving” when the Aurora shootings took place. In just 16 days, voices of reason had been shouted down to silence and no one was talking about it – much to the delight of the NRA. So, while we’re not talking about
the elephant in the room, yet another ‘Mercian, exercised his Gawd-given Second Amendment rights to defend his home and country against some invisible foe he’d been convinced had invaded. He took that totally irrational thought, based on false information and artificially-induced fear and felt divinely inspired to enter a Sikh temple, terrorize some of the most peace-loving people on the planet, kill 6 of them, critically injure several more, including a veteran police officer and end up dead himself. The temple was filled with men, women and children – American men, women and children. In the hours of confusion following this shooting, the Sikh people brought food and water to the journalists in the staging area. In their grief, they ministered to others and that should speak volumes about the kind of people they are.
A carefully culled Twitter feed gave me a good jump on the breaking news. In fact, I beat CNN, the Associated Press and Reuters by an hour, all based on one mysterious Tweet that led me to monitor the Oak Creek, Wisconsin police frequency. By the time CNN took over, it took them exactly two hours to explain to the nation the difference between Muslims and Sikhs while I screamed in futility at the television because it’s not okay to kill anyone, much less because you’re too fucking stupid to know the difference. The next 72 hours will be a vicious back and forth between people begging for this insanity to stop and those committed to douchetastically ignorant beliefs they’d be more than happy to shoot me in the head to defend. It’s neither unreasonable nor indelicate to discuss the reasons why these mass shootings occur in the U.S. with such alarming frequency in a logical attempt to stop it. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Sikh Temple gunman was the former leader of a neo-Nazi music group called “End Apathy”. There is a sad irony to that.
This morning, another Missouri mosque fell victim to arson, the second in the state in 5 weeks. Not one person can name a single thing those people ever did to them to deserve this.
Thinking perhaps time would be better spent focusing on an event that brings people together, I enjoyed an evening of watching the 30th modern Olympics from London. I was forced to TiVo the games when the political attack ads (14 in the first hour) drove me from the airwaves. Never before have I appreciated the feature that allows us to fast-forward through commercials. Ultimately, when I was able to watch later, a bit of my spirit was restored as I witnessed the fastest man in the world bring joy to his economically challenged country, an American gymnast struggle to hold back the tears as a moment of lost concentration forced her to settle for second place and a hometown girl brought glory to the host country by bringing home the heptathlon gold with pride and more than a little class. I laughed as the Kenyan steeple chaser, Ezekial Kemboi jumped into the arms and wrapped his legs around the waist of second place finisher, Frenchman Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad and was carried in a warm embrace of brotherhood and spirited competition. They stripped off their jerseys and exchanged them as a precious memento of the competition.
The defining memory of these Games, for me, was watching a handsome South African man with no legs run a 400 meter race against able-bodied athletes, come in last, and beam with pride at his accomplishment for making it to the semi-finals. That sort of courage should humble the privileged observer. His name is Oscar Pistorius and he loves to tell the story of how his mother cut him no slack in being a double-amputee. She would tell his brother to
put on his shoes and Oscar to put on his legs and just “go”. He was told if his brother climbed a tree, she expected him to climb the same tree. Pistorius was the Gold medalist in the Athens Paralympic games four years ago, and he petitioned his way into the London Games when some protested that his “bionic” legs gave him some sort of advantage. Oscar Pistorius prevailed in his quest to compete and taught the world that disabilities dwell not in the body, but in the mind. The winner of his final race came to him, embraced Pistorius and asked to exchange name placards with him. When do we ever see the victor in a competition approach the guy who came in last and ask for a keepsake? I watched a man with no legs teach the world something special about the true meaning of winning and I just couldn’t stop smiling.
At 12:30 am this morning, my time, the American space program successfully managed the very complex landing of an exploration rover aptly named “Curiosity” on the surface of Mars. It is the largest and most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet. The mission is thus far flawless and spectacular, and is on a two-year mission to hunt for the building blocks of life on Mars. NASA, long considered unnecessary and obsolete, a waste of taxpayer dollars, once again proved there is no nobler mission in the universe, than that of simple discovery. The images that were instantly beamed back to us are jaw dropping. At a cost of 2.5 billion dollars, the work of more than 5,000 Americans from 37 states and a decade of blood, sweat and tears, it is already worth every penny. I am filled with wonder that my country built a geochemistry lab on wheels, able to vaporize rocks, “taste” air samples and ingest dirt, that will instantly send the results of experiments home from 154 million miles away. And yes, as a country, we built it together, like everything else.
It’s been a roller-coaster ride of predictable and preventable sorrow, a triumph of spirit for a humble young South African man with a winning smile and no legs and the thrill of discovery, brought to the world by NASA scientists.