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Jan 29, 2013

Severely Impoverished

This weekend my husband and I were watching our favorite morning show ‘Up with Chris Hayes’. I like this show because it makes me think. Each weekend intelligent, interesting, and well-informed people discuss the issues. I can almost feel my brain gaining density as I listen to the conversation. In the last segment of the show four fiction authors were the focus. Ayana Mathis, author of ‘The 12 Tribes of Hattie’, used the term ‘severely impoverished’ in making her point.

Hearing that phrase caused something to click for me like lock tumblers falling into place. That’s what I had been feeling for the past several days and weeks. I knew I was struggling with a deep sadness connected with a recent article I read about the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Since that awful December day I have made myself read the articles about the victims and their families as I felt they deserved it. It felt as if, in a very insignificant way, that I could honor those who died by reading about them. I suppose it was a way to feel less helpless. ‘Wrestling with the Details of Noah Pozner’s Death” by Naomi Zeveloff, details an interview with Veronique Pozner, Noah’s mother. I should explain that I have no real world experience with guns or their aftermath. I’m sure I’ve witnessed thousands of murders in movies and on television but the majority of those have been clean and sanitized deaths and far from reality. I’ve never held a gun and have no desire to know what it might feel like in my hand. I have even less desire to know what bullets do to the human body. While I wish I could have remained naïve about that I now think that is a mistake and that everyone, on both sides of the gun safety argument, should know and that knowing should inform decisions.

Zeveloff writes that Noah’s mother wanted to bury her sweet son with ‘angel stones’ in each hand. She was unable to do so as his left hand was gone. As any loving parent would want to do, she wanted to kiss him goodbye and, I imagine, caress his beautiful cheek one last time. This tender act was impossible though as most of his jaw was gone. Are you shocked? I was. I am. I hope you are too. In trying to make some sense, and possibly to make this seem less horrible, I have found my mind wandering to other mothers burying other children. I wonder how they summon the courage to face this loss. I wonder how they have the resilience to speak of it, to share it by words or images. In reading of Veronique’s strength I was reminded of Mamie Mobley, another mother who buried her son. Mamie’s son was murdered in Mississippi in 1955. When his body arrived in Chicago she demanded an open casket so that she could know with certainty that this was indeed the body of her beloved son. His face was unrecognizable, showing only the evidence of the brutality of his death. She could only identify her child by a ring on his finger, a ring that had belonged to his father. Mamie made a decision that changed the course of American history. She ordered that her son’s casket remain open so that, even though her son’s face was unrecognizable, all would be able to identify this ugly vision of racism. The world reeled at the picture of young Emmett Till and the resulting outrage provided a spark to the Civil Rights movement.

We need that spark now at the death of Noah, Jack, Rachel, Emilie and 22 others (numbers for just this killing and not for any of the 11 others that have occurred in the last 2 years or the month since). We must make this, and every other death by guns, mean something or we truly are, and will remain, severely impoverished as a nation. I know the current discussion about gun safety is one of volatility. Advocates on both sides speak with passion and certainty and fear. As I listen to the rhetoric and both the sensible and the extreme reactions, I can only see a face, a beautiful innocent face. Doing no harm means more to me than only my actions in a counseling relationship. If the image of a child shot 11 times, or as Vice President Biden stated “riddled” with bullets, is disturbing to you then I invite you to do something. If the image of a child shot 11 times does not cause a deep moment of sadness, reflection, and outrage then we truly are impoverished.

Patricia Myers is a counselor, an associate professor of counselor education, and doctoral student.

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