Have you ever gone to one of those "today in history" websites, or newspaper items, to check out what happened on the day you were born?
I think I have already shared with the DK community the story of how my mother took me out of school to watch the funeral procession for the funeral of Martin Luther King. Her reasons for doing so were complicated, I'm sure, but one of them had to be to help me understand how the day of my birth had just taken on world historic importance.
Now that I am middle-aged, my birthday has even more layers of meaning encasing it, my mother went into the ICU for the last few days of her life on my birthday 14 years ago, but 8 years ago it was also the day my beloved UNC Tarheels won their fourth NCAA Championship. Since 1984, Bono and U2 have solemnized the date in song, so my birthday has its own platinum earworm. Some years I get the added bonus of having my birthday fall on Easter, and those are joyous occasions - who wouldn't want the addition of solid chocolate lagomorph to sink your own incisors into while bemoaning the fact that you are growing older?
My birthday, you see, always gifts me with plenty to ponder. It is a day filled with biographical, pop cultural and world historical reflection. Today, I'm thinking again about my 8th birthday, but in a slightly different context than might be expected.
I've been thinking a lot about history lately, about how living in a different historical era must, somehow give a different shading to the experiences of life, of emotions. It's a question I can't really know the answer to, but it is one that occupies my thoughts in a recurring fashion: what did "fear" feel like in a time without an organized police force, or a time of pandemic? What did "love" mean, when marriage was a matter of necessity and survival for the average woman? Did "grief" or "loss" travel with duller edges when losing children to disease, violence or the vagaries of a pre-modern existence was so commonplace?
I can never really know the answer to these questions, but asking them and thinking through them expands the way I make sense of contemporary issues and political questions.
Ever since December 14, 2012, I've been asking myself about this culture of fear that gives rise to a cultural frenzy, almost, for "protection". I'm aware, as are most of the dk community, of the important political and cultural forces that have gone into the production of that "frenzy". It hasn't happened naturally, or spontaneously. It was of course produced by humans and their human products to meet a human need. But I can't help but note that the increased search for security from fear, protection from unknown dangers mostly taking the form of other Americans who seem to represent groups of "despised", and sense that our children face heretofore unprecedented peril comes at a time when the actual need for a personal weapon is probably less than it has ever been in history. We speak, without even thinking of how "unnatural" it is to bury a child, when that unnaturalness is a gift of very recent modernity, the kind that the GOP is fighting to turn back.
So, I've been looking at the gun violence question through this kind of faulty, blurred prism where no clarity is possible, but a different way of seeing the problem might be proffered.
April 4, 1968 is another day in US history marked by gun violence. 1968 was year marked by extreme violence. Another time when fear was one of the dominant emotions that shaded the collective consciousness. There was regular violence in the streets, palpable tension of the fear--and for some--the expectation of an inevitable race war. A brutal foreign war filled our television screens every night. And political leaders were being shot down in public, not in the streets, mind you, but on motel balconies or in hotel kitchens.
My memories of this time are the memories of a child, of course, so to those who lived through this period as adults, I welcome the more detailed and mature perspectives as a corrective here. It was a time of danger and of volatility and of fear and rage and hate and conspiracy theories, sharing quite a bit of the same socio-psychic and emotional contours that we see today. But I don't recall a "race to the gun" as the one-size-fits-all solution to that cocktail of militant socio-political extremes. And, as a child I was living in both the geographic and socio-cultural milieu where guns and racism and fear of the "other" be it black men with weapons (or rights) or militants from the city who want to overthrow the government. Guns and gun rights were not nearly the centerpiece of the conversation that they are today.
The question I keep asking myself is about the shape of this underlying, yet unspoken, this ever-present but always invisible fear that shapes the lives of so many folks who find the pressing need for powerful and unregistered guns to protect them against this behemoth that threatens so pressingly. I know this is not the first time our nation, or humans for that matter have been faced with fears, with escalating violence, with tensions and resentments. Yet we act (collectively at least) as if it were.
April 4 and my own limited and confined biography tells me this is not the case. And so I ponder...
(and eat a bit of cake and wine while doing so)