We Need You, Julia Sugarbaker

I loved the show “Designing Women.” Having lived in Atlanta for about five years at the time, and being a native Southerner to boot, it felt pretty real, except, of course, for the fact that the only association to Atlanta were the occasional outside shots used as segues from one scene to another. “Matlock,” which gave the late Andy Griffith a second career, was similarly unreal. I gave up even trying to pretend that Matlock was actually in Atlanta after an episode in which an actor talked about going to Lake Lanier and pronounced the name with three syllables—and emphasis on the first. But I stayed with “Designing Women,” mostly because I could classify the girlfriends of my lifetime according to which of the characters each most resembled. I still can.

Who was I? Well, I wasn’t a Suzanne. In the first place, my cleavage has never measured up, and in the second, beauty pageants were not my style. If pushed to decide, I suppose I was a bit of cross between Charlene Frazier and Mary Jo Shively—hopelessly naïve about some things and admirably savvy about others.

But I wanted to be Julia. I wanted to be Julia because when Julia had had enough, she could reel off zingers about things in her craw that I agreed with but could never think of fast enough to say when they might have had the greatest effect.

This is one of those times. But Julia Sugarbaker is nowhere to be found, so I’m gonna have to do my best.

 

It’s time for this picayune adolescent bickering to stop. It’s time we grew up and faced the fact that no one is or will ever be perfectly safe—that at any moment, as long as humans populate this earth, tragedy will befall even the richest, the smartest, the kindest, the best among us. There is no line we can draw, no law we can pass, no wall we can build, no holy book written by humans (and they all were) that can provide the answers. That includes, by the way, the Bible, as well as the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah, and the Book of Mormon.

In fact, if those so quick to parrot other imperfect humans’ interpretations bothered to read the Bible, especially the part where Jesus comes in, we would already know it, and would have moved past the expectation that any one of us has any authority, much less control over the behavior of anyone other than ourselves (minor children excepted). The rain falls on the just and the unjust, Jesus said. Translate: Bad things happen to those who don’t deserve them as well as those who, in our arrogance, we decide do deserve them. But bad things will happen, and our character is shown, not only in how we respond, but in whether we continue to act with humanity toward each other long after the residual of those bad things has passed.

I heard today that the event of this morning in Newtown, Connecticut was considered the second worst of its kind in U.S. history. I am offended by that, because the judgment was based on a number. I am offended by that because no one who was there in person this morning, no parent of a dead five-year-old will ever describe this as the second worst anything.

Knowing that there is no perfect solution, it’s time we sat down at the table together, pledged our sacred honor to each other as our Founding Fathers once did, and find the best, albeit imperfect, solution we can, together, to the problems that face us.

Among the obvious solutions we need is a way to regulate gun ownership that allows the men and women among us who are responsible adults (and not swaggering over-aged adolescents) to pursue the outdoor sports they love, while restricting access to weapons our Founding Fathers couldn’t have dreamed of. If you want to argue that the Second Amendment has anything to do with whether or not a 20-year-old has access to a Sig Sauer, you waste your breath with me because you will only clearly demonstrate that you never should have been awarded a high school diploma, because you obviously weren’t paying attention in history class.

And while I’m at it, the next time I hear someone in a political party in the United States of America say he is a victim of “tyranny” while eating out at Bones, I’m liable to borrow your messianic delusion and invoke my right to bear arms against ignorance. As a 10-year-old, I was pretty darn good with the Winchester rifle my grandfather taught me to shoot, and I had sense enough not to point it at other humans—just squirrels endangering a pecan crop.

I digress. The Second Amendment doesn’t apply here, anyway. It seems the three (yes, three) guns our perpetrator used were legally purchased by his mother (yes, his mother) who now lies cold tonight herself. I halfway expect that in somebody’s decrepit little mind, this will turn out to be her fault.

Someone told me once that in a fight, the one who runs out of ideas first is the one who throws the first punch. If that’s true, then many who call themselves leaders today have no ideas at all. Their only strategy is to mow down those who would oppose them with salvos to remove attention from their own inadequacies.

Here’s the deal. The physical violence will not stop until the emotional and spiritual violence demonstrated every day in our legislatures and in our media and in our homes comes to an end.

Though I saw my share of troubled people in the days when I was a therapist, I didn’t pretend to know then and I don’t know now what goes wrong in the head of a 20-year-old. Did something go awry in his brain when he was two? Was he played as a pawn in his parents’ divorce? Was he abused, bullied, ridiculed as a child? We will never know the answer.

Was there anything we could have done to stop it? Is there anything we can do to keep it from happening again? Perhaps, but probably not. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, the 2% and the 98%, the innocent and the guilty.

But I do know one thing. There are people in Newtown, Connecticut who are faced tonight and will be faced tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that with the challenge of finding a way to go forward, of reaching deep inside themselves to find the will to go on in the face of unspeakable tragedy, just like the families of Columbine and Virginia Tech and the World Trade Center casualties and countless others we will never meet in life. I pray that the grace of our Beloved holds them up when they cannot stand.

It’s in times like these, my friends, that the ruthless nature of faith becomes clear. And let me be clear. I’m not talking about “faith” that if you “accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior,” nothing bad will ever happen to you or the “faith” that something good will happen to you (which usually has something to do with getting what you want) or “faith” that the man or woman standing in a pulpit on Wednesday or Saturday or Sunday knows anything more about God than you do. And certainly not “faith” that there is a place in the sky that qualifies as the prize for voting for the “right” candidate in a political election or making the owner of a chicken restaurant even richer than he already was.

I’m talking about the unwavering faith that no matter what happens, even if we are nailed to a cross, we are loved—that all things will work for good, even if we won’t survive to see it. I’m talking about the faith that makes it possible for us to overcome our petty narcissism and really and truly fulfill the only request Jesus ever made of us. To love each other as he loved us.

 

So far, we haven’t done so well. I dare say it’s high time we got started.

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