Saturday, August 16, 2008

TVUUC: Another's Memoir, and Mine

This is something I had started writing a little while after Jim Adkisson entered the Unitarian Universalist Church on Kingston Pike.

I could hear the crunch of my shoes on the loose roadside gravel. The air was a smoky din of automobile noise and people moving like woodlice on the pavement. I peered over the edge of the walking bridge and glimpsed the cars flying by beneath me on Cumberland. In the space between the railing and the train trestle, just beyond arms length, they looked like a grimy slot machine that would not stop.

This is how I’ve felt for the eternity of the past two days, trying to scramble for some sort of definitive path through the senseless slaughter of Unitarian Universalist church members. It made national news headlines, and even got a spot on the front of the New York Times. I was at work before sunrise on Monday, slinging coffee to the morning commute, and glanced at the front of the page, and some part of me wished that it would have been a bigger section of the paper. Why? I don’t know. I wish it was as big as I know that all our restless natives feel about it. Somehow, the world’s consolation of a sixteen-point font and two-and-three-quarter square inches of print space makes me realize that we are a single broken oyster shell in the surf, smoothing and tumbling into sand. Endless sand.

I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to write anything about it. All had been written, within hours; all that had been spoken and postulated was thrumming in an electric blue web far above our heads, smoking in the ears of hungry media consumers. As I stepped into a church meeting on the west side of town, I considered telling a friend there that he should be prepared for the fallout that was sure to come. I still don’t know if it’s true. I do remember praying that the shooter was not a Christian, and hoping that he was still alive. Is that selfish? Again, I don’t know. I really do hate that part of me wants to be central to the plotline, and desires nothing more than a necessary soliloquy amongst the action. That guy usually has nothing to say. How much of our postulation for the past few days has been of the spotlight-snatching variety? On the TV, I feel like the city’s grief leaves its banks like the Mississippi into an Iowa cornfield. Of course, to say that such emotional adultery is commonplace is not so much cynical as it is forthright. It’s not really my desire to contribute to that. No amount of news coverage and sympathetic greeting card shuffling is going to make the gaping wounds of misunderstanding bleed themselves into healing. No ribbons or bumper stickers or tritely intellectual nomenclature is going to keep the shallow wounds of the uninvolved open so that we can stand beside the actual victims of this evil. What wound would spur us to stand beside the shooter himself, who, let it be said, is a victim of evil?

I wonder what he had for breakfast. Did James D. Adkisson have the same toast and eggs that Greg McKendry or Linda Kraeger ate that morning? I guess that I like to view murderers as pop-tart sort of people. If they actually paused to thoughtfully cook a one- or two-course meal, wouldn’t that make them sociopaths? Isn’t that what Hannibal Lecter did? Killers who eat quick, dry meals are perhaps less likely to be mulling their actions over so rationally. At least, it’s what I’d like to think. I told my neighbor that I’d rather have crazy people than citizens who go out with evil on their minds. Our own justice system recognizes that some people don’t keep their hands fully at the helms of their actions.

I also wonder if someone would actually post bail for him. Who, with a million dollars lying about, would be so kind as to drop it in the city treasury for the freedom of James Adkisson? On another note, who would be so kind as to sit down and talk to him, or listen to him, as if he had only had a pop-tart and gone out to read the paper that Sunday morning? As a Christian, I wonder if, given the opportunity, some Christian would buy him a cup of coffee. What would he do under the influence of a willing ear? The papers said that he was frustrated with his lack of social security benefits. The internet was swollen with rumors of his ex-wife’s past attendance to the church. The FBI kick-started their investigative machine, because James’ crime wore the shoes of a hate-crime. This is a comparatively new word, and a quietly subversive misnomer. There’s really no problem associating hatred with the violence of that Sunday morning. The clincher is when the word assumes that there are some crimes, nay, some evils, in which hatred is not involved.

We keep a laundry list of hatreds in this world. It might just rival our litany of badly titled “loves.” We have simple hatred, racial hatred, socio-economic hatred, self-hatred, hatred of foods, hatred of situations, projected hatred, socio-pathology, masochism, anarchy, and the dark carolers keep singing. Can we really, by the differentiation and filing of our emotions and actions, gain control over this hateful spiral? That is our desire, isn’t it? To gain control. Why else would we name things with such unimaginative and boorish hullabaloo? If there is anyone being lax, look sharp! Chaos will sneak up into your lap if you don’t name it quickly. This is, perhaps, at least one reason we ask beastly questions like, “Why?” We are cows standing in the outwash of interstate billboard lights. We can no more comprehend “Why?” than they can grasp the advertisements. I don’t know if James Adkisson himself understood why he decided that mass murder was the best course of action.

The president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
quipped lightly about the strange sound of the thunderheads that had brewed over the candlelight vigil the next night.
    “We don’t know who’s speaking outside…but we trust, we have faith, that it is a friendly voice.” I think of Rahab, the foreign prostitute housing the Hebrew spies, saying that the whole land is quaking in fear of their people, in fear of the one who walks before them and behind them. I think of the hearts of Pharaoh’s men at the sight of a pillar of fire reaching down from the night sky and torching the desert sand between them and Moses. We always fear what we don’t know. We always fear to be known as well, even as we are famished for having our naked souls loved with a longing that C. S. Lewis said was almost indecent to mention.

The words “tragedy” and “shooting” are now part of our daily landscape, folded into the fabric like unnoticed strokes of dark paint. Grief is now, for all but those closely involved, the broken nose of the Sphinx. It has always been so, and the circle of wounded suppleness is shrinking. May we see brokenness and still weep. May our souls still be rung like loud bells by the approach of the failed and the fractured. May we not only be shocked, but hurt. Hurt like a man who has eaten something wrong. May our hearts be consumed with the wracking spasms of wrestling with that which has tormented us. And let us not heal quickly, but slowly, and together, not breaking a single bruised reed.


and Blogger Joie Mayfield addressed the Senate...

Very well, spoken, Adam. :) You are amazingly talented. I miss you.

4:50 PM, August 21, 2008  

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