Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Choosing not to put fear first

Officer Sebena, domestic violence, fear, gun control

The bustling season has settled into a soft couch with a fuzzy throw at my house, and she has substituted Pandora Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Station for National Public Radio. There are  no terrible voiced prophets spewing frogs of doom, warning about the lack of brakes on the truck they are driving, gas pedal down, to the fiscal cliff.

Still, my thoughts keep turning to slain Wauwatosa police officer Jennifer Sebena, to the slaughter of innocent children and their teachers before that, to all the terrible things that happen near and far. To all the stories we hear that support our false impression that terrible things happen more than non-terrible things, that the only way to keep them at bay is with guns. Stories that make us forget that most of the terrible things that happen to us are things like cancer and lost love, things guns can't control.

So many questions. So many answers that have to do with weapons, so few that have to do with putting down the arms we use and holding each other more securely in our hearts and arms.

The murder of Officer Sebena tears open a story that defies the usual responses. “Arm everybody” doesn’t work: both she and her husband-murderer were armed. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” never meant anything anyway.

But to comfort ourselves, we tell the story of bad guys and good guys.  The victim is a pillar of her community, of her church; the perfect officer, the perfect wife and daughter. And her killer, her husband, is a monster.

We don’t spend much time on how the world we live in, a world that meets anger and fear with gunshots, helped make him a monster.

So many questions are hidden beneath the story we repeat, the litany of good person versus bad person. 

So many questions about us, about the community we create to help and support each other.

Did she report being stalked to the police? If not, why not? Some of her fellow officers knew bad things were going on: did they do anything? Why or why not? Did the killer’s church men's group sense a hardening, a losing of control, a shifting – a possession by terrible fears and evil ideas? If not, why not?

It’s easier to pretend that everything is fine, that a man who goes to church and has accepted Jesus as his savior won’t kill someone, especially not his wife. But they do, more often than we’d like to admit. And so do people of all faiths and of no faith.

Bad guys, good guys. Suppose you get an idea that your wife is messing around. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not: in your mind she has become a bad guy. And what do we do with bad guys? Punish them. Put an end to them through execution.

It’s all so terribly wrong.

I don’t have the answers. But I know that fear and anger are prisons.  That most people are kind and decent most of the time, and everyone is also not, some of the time. That more guns won’t solve the hard problems.

DH Lawrence wrote: 

What is the knocking at the door in the night?

It is somebody wants to do us harm.

No, no, it is the three strange angels.

Admit them, admit them

I have a job that exposes me daily to strangers in strange places. To do it, I have to choose not to fear. So far the choice hasn’t been a mistake. I've been lucky. And I've been cautious.

Come with me for a moment.

The stairs are rickety, broken, and you hope they and the railing hold for you and your bags of equipment and paper.

A man lies on the couch, covered with many quilts, and he does not smile. You understand why the young researcher was reluctant to come here, but your gut, which you hope and pray is operating on some kind of experiential evidence basis, says it’s okay.

“I’m sorry for the confusion and misunderstanding about our visit,” you say. He’s still not convinced. “They sent the A Team today,” you joke, and he laughs, and something heavy in the room is lifted.

The house and the people are poor, but they are clean, and the Christmas tree is beautifully decorated. While you are there, they smoke outside, an act of courtesy in a household where everyone usually smokes everywhere. You didn’t ask them to do that.

Things go surprisingly smoothly. Whatever idiosyncrasies of speech make the people hard to understand don’t reflect cognitive problems. They “get” the survey, where it’s going, more quickly than most.

One woman asks her weight. “One hundred and eighteen pounds,” the measurer says, and all three cheer. She’s worked for years to get it up to that point. “What’s mine?” the second woman asks. “One hundred and forty seven pounds,” you say. She’s exactly the same height and weight you are, and you are struck by the commonality between people more used to seeing differences.

“You should get the checks before Christmas,” you say as you are leaving, wondering how they are managing. They agree they can use those checks.

“God bless you, ma’am,” they say, “and have a Merry Christmas!”

“You too,” you reply, and you are feeling blessed already.

I’m not sure who the strange angels are, the three of us or the three of them. We’re all so much the same most of the time that it’s hard to know.

Carrying a gun would not make me feel safer. Paying attention to what’s going on, heeding the warning signals, does.

What will we do next time we suspect someone is being terrorized, someone is being guided by demons? Before the chill of deep and justified fear, before the need for weapons? Or will we just accumulate an arsenal and lock our doors, assuming the worst of everyone out there all the time?

Even when the monster lives inside with us. . .

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