Saturday, January 12, 2013

Guns, Violence, and Learning to Speak & Walk


In the time that has passed since I last wrote here, there have been many changes. Some in my own life and others in the world, the national dialogue. I flit back and forth between self-absorption about my own challenges and a deep sadness about those throughout the world—and also, the challenges that aren’t changing fast enough.

Hossaini's cover
photo from Kabul
Nationally, situations such as Newtown have sat heavy in my heart, only a little over a year after Massoud Hossaini’s photo on the cover of the New York Times began haunting me, not only with the sadness over what war does to families and children, but with how quickly we (Americans? Humans?) turn our attention from such destruction and accept it either as the way it is or the way it has been and thus must always be.

Then I hear brave voices such as that of Leymah Gbowee, who wrote from Africa after the Newtown tragedy, from “a place where many mothers have lost their kids to large-scale gun violence,” and called on mothers to step in and resist the culture of gun violence here today, again.

Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for inspiring women across Liberia to bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War. Her country was facing the ruthless leadership of Charles Taylor, who conscripted – or kidnapped – boys under 15 and forced them to commit atrocities. Gbowee mobilized thousands of women, both Christian and Muslim, through the “Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace,” and met with Taylor and others to pressure to warring factions to bring about the end to war. At the heart of her work, she knew that the responsibility was upon women and mothers to take back the sons of their country if they were to restore peace.

I heard her speak last summer, and was inspired by her courage – and the sense of heart and humor she maintained through such unimaginable circumstances.

I continue returning to her words for instructions or answers about what we need in today’s dialogue on gun violence in America, and I recognize what she did to mobilize women—mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends of those taken into the cycle of violence in her country. And while there were women and girls in that cycle, the majority was, as in so many other wars on our streets and across borders, men. And boys. In America today, too much of the footage of the national discussion on gun violence—meetings with Biden, and so on—features faces in the room are primarily white and male.

Where are the seats at the table for the mothers of African American boys ages 15 to 19, whose leading cause of death is homicide by gunfire – when death by gunfire ranks eighth for all Americans? Where are the seats for the mothers of all youth under 15, who are 16 times likelier to die by gunfire in the U.S. than in 25 other industrialized nations? Why is an American teenager today more likely to die by gunfire than all other natural causes of death combined?

Are there voices strong enough to bring about effective change? And what responsibility does each of us have? Or do I have?

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In my own life, there have been many changes too since I last wrote. Maybe some of those changes are inspiring me to confront what I am doing or not doing about all of the above. The highlight of 2012 was my marriage to the love of my life and my best friend. And shortly thereafter, a significant health setback for both of us.

Challenges found on the sidewalk:
my cane and a few math problems
For me, a brain injury that left me at first with cognitive and motor skill impairment, including a shocking realization that I couldn’t read or write, and then the very slow process of recovery: Learning again to find my voice, to put words together in a proper order, both in conversation and on paper. Re-learning left from right, recovering the ability to hold a pen, and so on. Today, almost six months later, I am back to work, happy to function in the land of spreadsheets and projects that need to be edited, vetted, reviewed. I am still in physical therapy, only able to walk for about 10-1/2 minutes, with difficulty, before a neuromuscular miscommunications fails me and my legs.

I miss walking in the woods. A leisurely stroll through galleries and museums. A back-to-school shopping spree with my daughters. I admit I have finally grown tired of trying to walk longer and farther, but also know that I can’t stop trying yet: I have places to go and things to do. Many, many new things to do. 

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