The Sandy Hook shootings took place a couple of weeks before my shuso ceremony at Tassajara, and I expected that someone might ask me a question about it. I had my usual strident points of view lined up (“The US is an old testament nation, not a Christian nation,” and so on). In the end, the question that came caught me off-guard: what would I say to a parent who had lost a child in the shooting? My reply was something along the lines of “I can’t even begin to imagine how much you must be suffering right now,” and it marked a heart-opening shift from some of the more easily batted questions up until then.
Wednesday is a day of different teaching sessions for me. In my Within class, I decided to broach the subject of the latest massacre, coming as it did, so close on the heels of the last – even as I am generally reluctant to speak of tragic events in the news. There seem to be two salient points to remember. One is that America has always been like this, from the earliest days of the fragile settlements in New England, and through the decades of slavery and its aftermath, which is still fully present: vindictive, ready to kill in order to defend, but also in order to expand; ready to kill from a sense of separation, isolation, domination and othering.
Additionally, the rugged individualism that seeps through the culture down the centuries plays out as lethally toxic masculinity these days, with angry young white men (who are the shooters, almost without exception) who find no other way to express their alienation than through gun violence.
And this is not separate from all the other assaults on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which is supposed to be the raison d’être of the US, led by venal politicians who are seduced by money to obstruct policies that the majority of people (even in this case the majority of gun owners) would like to see in place.
As I and others in the class who had grown up in other cultures observed, this national karma is hard to understand from the outside, in the same way that the lack of healthcare and attacks on abortion rights are hard to understand from a European perspective.
Each country has its own blindspots, and the UK is certainly struggling with its own karma right now, but those blindspots in the US tend to the punitive and deadly. Anger and frustration are what we are left with.
“In a typical year, more pre-schoolers are shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are.”