Lean On Me, When You’re Not Strong

I got on a plane Friday morning, leaving my home in Vancouver for three weeks in New Orleans. I very deliberately unplugged from the outside world for the weekend, selfishly wanting to steal that time to myself. I was going to write tonight about my first few days in NOLA, but after catching up on the events in a small town in Connecticut over the weekend, I think my “let the good times roll” post can wait. I don’t want to jump on the media bandwagon that will undoubtably become a tasteless circus, and I’m not sure I get to have an opinion or write about something that is so personal to the families, but just continuing on without any acknowledgement seems . . so small.

I try to imagine what it would feel like if my family was involved and anonymous people all over the internet were wading in with their opinions. Would I care? Would I feel violated? Would it offer me some comfort? I think my grief would be so overwhelming that at first I wouldn’t know or care what the rest of the world was saying or doing. Then I might go back and forth between anger, because no-one else can really know another’s grief, and some level of comfort in the support of others. I’ve had my own (comparatively) small experience with grief recently and I only too keenly remember how angry the well-intentioned comments of friends made me. Although I can now, with some time and perspective, appreciate the kindness behind the “you are better off” comments, I can only too well imagine how unspeakably angry the “all the angels are in heaven” comments might make those grieving families. You don’t care about any of the silver lining platitudes, you just want it to never have happened. And you want people to simply acknowledge your grief and anger, even for a moment, and not try to sweep it aside and make everyone feel better.  Even after all this time that anger, while muted, sits just below the surface. How will those families even begin to come to terms with something that is so completely without reason or explanation. What will they do with their anger, grief and overwhelming sadness. I can’t imagine what you do in the face of such unimaginable loss. Grief and sadness are not just razor-sharp, they are also dull and brutal and they bludgeon you until you feel like you will never get up again.  But you do.

Sitting here in a southern state, as a frequent visitor to this wonderful country, it is so difficult to know what to make of a country that has such an imbued reverence for weapons and where children are murdered by another child using his mother’s assault weapon. I read today that there have been more than 70 shootings in schools in the US since the Brady Handgun Prevention Act was passed in 1994.  That’s 4 school shootings a year.  Given my personal ideology, it’s no surprise that most of my friends are liberals who have no stake in the gun lobby and most of them actively oppose it. But my friends span the spectrum; I have a friend who left the US for Canada many years ago in protest over political policies and I have another friend who is a former Marine ranger, he was deployed overseas with an anti-terrorist unit and is such an ardent gun advocate that he has the Second Amendment tattooed on his forearm. They are equally passionate in their opinions, they are both intelligent and speak eloquently in defence of those opinions. Even in the wake of this tragedy, Chris wrote with passion and conviction about the right to bear arms.  And here in New Orleans, 4 people have been murdered by guns in the last 24 hours.

gun deaths

In the end, what I know is that I live in a country where ordinary people don’t own guns, where mom and pop don’t keep a handgun in the glove box of the Winnebago, where my friends don’t have a pistol in the bedside table. The streets of my cities are not perfectly safe, but I don’t fear being shot in a random incident and although statistically I’m still more likely to be assaulted by a friend or relative, the seriousness of those injuries is tempered because we don’t, as a rule, have guns on our homes. And to the best of my knowledge, there has been no mass murder at a school in any of the countries I have lived in – Canada, Australia or New Zealand – countries that don’t enshrine the “right” to own and carry deadly weapons.

The American Bar Association published these statistics from 2003, the situation has not improved since then:

In 2003, there were 30,136 firearm-related deaths in the United States; 16,907 (56%) suicides, 11,920 (40%) homicides (including 347 deaths due to legal intervention/war), and 962 (3%) undetermined/unintentional firearm deaths.
CDC/National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports 1999-2003 http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars

The rate of death from firearms in the United States is eight times higher than that in its economic counterparts in other parts of the world.
Kellermann AL and Waeckerle JF. Preventing Firearm Injuries. Ann Emerg Med July 1998; 32:77-79.

The overall firearm-related death rate among U.S. children younger than 15 years of age is nearly 12 times higher than among children in 25 other industrialized countries combined.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 1997;46:101-105.

The United States has the highest rate of youth homicides and suicides among the 26 wealthiest nations.

There didn’t seem to be any music that would not appear to make light of this horrible tragedy.  But then I thought of the Playing for Change: Peace Through Music documentary –   http://playingforchange.com .  Here is a cover of the Ben E. King classic sung by musicians around the world, adding their part to the song as it travelled the globe, because we all need friends to lean on.


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