Ten years ago, a few days after twenty-six people were murdered in an elementary school in Connecticut, I stood on the stage of my high school and said one of their names into a microphone. We had tri-weekly chapels and something had to be said. A local minister gave the talk and he requested that twenty-six people from our school—twenty students and six staff members—speak the names of the dead before the service and stand behind him, as inescapable visual, while he talked.

I volunteered and received a name. My economics teacher gave me a piece of folded newspaper with photos on it, and she was there, frozen in pixelated newsprint, with a pair of glasses on the tip of her nose and a bright smile darkened by the cheap print job. Her last name meant “happy.” When chapel started, I waited my turn and said the name, then joined the shadowed semi-circle arranged behind the pastor. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember thinking, with all the considerable certainty that a fifteen-year-old can muster, that if this doesn’t change us, nothing will.

Ten days ago from when I write this, ten people were murdered in a grocery store in New York. This terrorist act was fueled at least in part by the once-fringe “great replacement theory,” which, according to Fox News host Tucker Carlson (its most mainstream evangelist), contends that leftist political elites aim for the “replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.” Mr. Carlson has not defined “legacy Americans” beyond “people whose ancestors lived here,” but he does scatter clues throughout his monologues as to who is not one. Here, in no particular order, are some from an episode of his show last September: third world. Change the racial mix. Haiti. South America. Brazil. Chile. (A shame the more useful and natural phrase, “native Americans,” was already taken.)

Today, before many of the victims of the New York shooting had even been laid to rest, at least twenty people were murdered, again in an elementary school, this time in Texas. We do not yet know all of their names. The flashbacks to Sandy Hook have already begun. There will be righteous grief. There will be an outcry for more and better gun control laws. There will be calls to arm teachers. There will be thoughts and prayers. There will be inadequate sentiments from politicians. There will be a laughable statement from the NRA.

I am now twenty-five years old and spend my days only a few miles away from that stage where I once said the name of a little girl. I have no certainty left in my soul except, perhaps, for this: This is our legacy, America.

Our legacy is that we are such cowards that paralysis is our only response to the reality of dead children. We are so full of avarice that we sell ourselves to racism for ad revenue. We are so beholden to militant masculinity that we believe more guns will save our broken young men. We are so afraid of becoming the laughingstock of the world that we have made ourselves its object of pity.

And this is what really damns us: we are so concerned with keeping what’s ours that we draw lines around this, our legacy, and scream at anyone who comes close. As if they did not need to be told to stay away.

Spare me nuance. Spare me justification and hope. Spare me your God and his justice. When certainty flees in the face of such raw evil, it only leaves behind room for fear, sadness, or anger. I have seen the consequences of choosing fear. I have cried out all the sadness left in my body.

So let me be angry. There is nothing else left.

1 Comment

  1. Marianne Coughenour

    Yes, simply yes.


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