I was going to write about something completely different, until I heard the news about the third tragedy in three weeks involving young children and guns in our state. Two children dead, one seriously wounded. Will there be another by the time you hear this? Is this some kind of horrifying epidemic? I hope not. I pray not.
What I was all set to write about was a phrase that caught my eye: novelist and artist Douglas Coupland’s contention, in a recent New York Times book review, that we “live in a post-era era without forms of its own powerful enough to brand the times.”
A post-era Era. Really? Maybe we just haven’t decided how to “brand” our era yet because there’s a lot about it that’s not pretty. Maybe our zeitgeist is fear.
It is my unschooled opinion, as a non-gun-owner, that people choose to own guns because fear defines their lives. I’m not talking about hunters here, I’m talking about people who carry handguns or assault rifles. I’ll say it again: fear defines their lives. They fear the unknown, the unpredictable, the bad thing that could suddenly happen, the bad person that could suddenly appear—and they hope that a loaded gun under the seat of their car will protect them. Instead, their 3 or 7 or 9 year old finds that gun and a child winds up dead or gravely wounded. And the whole world grieves. And then it happens again. And again.
And maybe some people think, Wow, there are a lot of unhinged people out there with guns, people so distracted they forget to keep them away from their children—so I better get a gun too, in case I encounter one of those wackos. And the fear just escalates and escalates.
I don’t usually write like this. I am an optimist. I really don’t want to believe we live in the Era of Fear. More than anything, I wish I could convince people who let fear define their lives of the alternative, which is, of course, love.
One thing I’ve never understood is how people of faith reconcile gun ownership with their religion. The Bible preaches love. Jesus urged his followers to love their enemies, not fear them. Not take up arms against them. The old prophet Isaiah, living in the bloodiest of times, foretold an era when we would “beat swords into ploughshares.”
We’re not there yet. We’re here, in a world where loaded guns are left within reach of children.
So back to Douglas Coupland. He says the Internet enables us to live in a time in which “all eras co-exist at once.” When I look up an old music clip on Youtube or some historical fact on Wikipedia, I think, “Great! I love this!”
But when I read about voter intimidation laws, or anti-contraception laws, or small children killing each other with handguns, and I realize they are not stories of the Jim Crow South or the pre-Feminist era or the Wild West, they are this week’s news stories—well, then Coupland’s declaration takes on a whole new, dark, anarchic sort of meaning.
We live in the era in which all the fears of past eras keep circling back to haunt us.
Last week, I wrote about feeling like I’m every age I ever was. This week, I feel like we, collectively, are every age we ever were as a country. As a people. As a sentient species with the purported ability to learn and grow. To turn fear into love. But can we? Will we? Maybe that’s the question that will define our post-era Era.
Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available. Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.