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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nostalgia is the luxury of survival


When I was a child, one of the highlights of the pre-holiday season was the arrival of the Sears Christmas Catalog. The cover, usually a family enjoying the aftermath of gift-opening frenzy or a pair of alert Nordic-looking children on the watch for Santa Claus, was itself entrancing. But the contents, page after page of toys and velvet dresses, prompted a consumerist rush and glut of possibility. Look at everything I could have! Dolls, play houses, my own girl-sized vanity! My siblings and I would pore over the pages, picking what we liked best and eying the packages under the tree in hopes of spotting a match.

This sort of  reminiscence usually propels me into a self-indulgent glow of reconstructed memories, featuring more what might-have-been than what was. This year, however, neither visions of sugar plums nor the gradual appearance of holiday lighting in the neighborhood summons the magic. I am just too sad. We all know about the 20 children who won't be able to build more memories, and the families for whom Christmas will forever be a different kind of anniversary.

Last week's slaughter of innocents in Connecticut lays heavy in the air and in my heart. I know I'm not alone in imagining their trees decorated, but unlit. Gifts wrapped for those who will never receive them. They may be gone, but their faces are familiar. I see them on every street, in every grocery line, on every playground I drive by.

Nostalgia is a luxury not everyone can afford. It's a reward for surviving, or at least reinventing, the past. But this is isn't quite what I'm experiencing. The Portuguese have a word for it, saudade. It's like nostalgia, but it also encompasses emptiness and longing for something that should be there, but is missing. It's a feeling of loss for something we may never had had, but yearn for all the same.

Most of us have lived through -- or at least lived past -- incidents of rage and violence, but when children are the victims we remember again that our world is sick. Worse than that, we know that it was bound to happen. Americans--not even 5% of the world's population-- own half the guns. Sooner or later they will fall into the hands of people who'll use them to blaze a trail of sorrow.

We can say what we like about too many guns, lack of regulation, poor funding for mental health. The fact is, however, that fear and violence are in the air we breathe in this country. Our games, our recreational media, our fictions abound with mayhem.

I know nice people who own guns and use them to hunt and target-shoot. I know others who want to protect their property. I also know if they God appeared to them in a glowing cloud and asked if they would give up their guns in exchange for the life of even one of these children, they'd do it in a heartbeat. But that's what it would take -- a divine intervention.

People ask why God allows such horrendous episodes as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary. Maybe it's not divine oversight or callousness. Maybe it's a message, a warning as to the people of the Old Testament: Forsake this idol you have made of the Second Amendment.

When I was a child, we'd go on drives in the country looking for old cemeteries, one of my mother's hobbies. Among the slanting stones we'd see little marble lambs, memorials for children who had succumbed to typhus, diphtheria, long winters. Lonely, abandoned lambs brought tears to my eyes then and now. I picture twenty of them in Connecticut. I never knew them. But I miss them. Saudade.

8 comments:

  1. I feel the same way you do Mary. It matches the loss of all that is good, represented by six year olds with the same old false bravado that holds this country back. The gun attitude is the same American attitude that prevents us from dipping our flag to the host country at the Olympics. We have the easy ability to rain death down on others while we unwrap presents every year and thank God. I'm sick of it.

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  2. Thanks, Pete. We'll all have to think about what to do to change our outlook and protect children,

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  3. You completely echo my sentiments about the incidents happening in the world Mary! Very good read. :)

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    1. Thank you, Sonal -- a difficult one to write. Let's hope for a more peaceful, sane future.

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  4. It seems to me that a lot of people (gauging by my facebook feed) have been more upset about the loss of their guns than the loss of these children's lives, or the grief these families and community are going through. It sickens me that this stuff goes on in this country I love, but the gun-control issue that superceded the grieving process honestly took me aback. This is the message we send to our kids as we buy them Call of Duty, or whatever other violent video game we can nurture them with.

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    1. Yes -- as well as the call to arm teachers and principals. Now that's a lesson for the children!

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  5. When I hear "guns don't kill people that people kill people" I fear that our outlook about violence is not going to be changed any time soon. Recently I wrote to Vice President Biden about this same issue and I suggested that perhaps we should treat gun manufacturers as we do any others who profit by the pain and suffering of their victims.

    If instead of a gun it would have been cough syrup we would have gone after the responsible pharma with rights and reason. Why not the guns? those who own guns to hunt or target practice or for whatever reason other than to kill a human being would not be the ones likely to bring a suit against the manufacturer. But in a case such as the nightmares in Colorado and Connecticut recently, it would have been a deterrent for both those who make them, and those who sell them if they could be brought to justice for providing the means to commit such heinous acts.

    I don't think they would enjoy the laissez faire pass they have thanks to their lobbying by the NRA to our government so called "representatives". None of them certainly represents me when it comes to allow anyone to buy a gun without checks and balances put there for the purpose to protect the innocent who may become a victim adding insult to injury by the lack of justice. There is no assault weapons created for any other purpose than to kill a human being.

    We are a nation that somehow has misplaced if not sadly, lost our moral compass. Let's hope that something concrete may come of all this, and those who think that putting a posse on each school is the answer are just as misguided as those who think that guns don't kill people.

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    1. It's just like saying poison doesn't kill people. Poisoners kill people. So sad and stupid! We'll hope for change, though, however small.

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