My American history teacher spoke in a monotone as he read a few paragraphs from the textbook about the Nazis killing six million Jews during the Holocaust. The boy sitting behind me leaned forward and whispered in my ear: “Kike. My grandfather was in the KKK.”
The first time it struck me, I was reading Henri Nouwen’s Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring. “It seems fair to say that between the ages of one and thirty, people are considered young; between thirty and sixty, they are considered middle aged,” Nouwen writes. I was 29 and a little terrified.
It’s damnable that any reflection on American gun violence is quickly out of date. I was in Texas when the October 1 shooting occurred in Roseburg, Oregon, leaving 10 dead including the gunman. I was revising an article provoked by that shooting when 14 were shot dead December 2 in San Bernardino, California. Now there are two statistics I can’t get out of my mind: first, mass shootings (resulting in four or more deaths) occur at a rate of more than one a day in the United States. Second, more American gun deaths have occurred since 1970 than American war deaths since 1775.
It’s that time of the year: the time when I need to carry my favorite poem in my pocket and read it frequently. I do this to inoculate myself against the fantasies that come up about now. Not Christmas fantasies of sugar plums dancing in my head—New Year’s fantasies.