Because of the recent anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s death, at our dinner table we have been discussing the turbulent 1960s, when so many iconic political leaders were assassinated. Lone gunmen silenced our heroes and darkly complicated what John F. Kennedy called “a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils.”
I was told stories by my parents about how they felt those gunshots, how they kept hearing the echoes of those assassins’ bullets in our public squares, our Mississippi driveways, our Manhattan ballrooms. So many of those locations – one thinks of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed – are now monuments to those we have lost.
Decades later, we hear and feel the gunshots in the places of our everyday gatherings – an elementary school in Connecticut, a high school in Colorado, our colleges and universities in Oregon and Virginia. Gun violence has spread to our movie theaters, churches and now our nightclubs.
Fourteen times now – six within the past year – President Barack Obama, our consoler in chief, has stepped before the cameras to address the nation after mass shootings. This past Sunday, he said this:
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“We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city. Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.”
I told my youngest son the reason why we attended the vigil later Sunday in Davis’ Central Park, and he asked me if anyone important had died. His mom jumped in, saying everyone is important.
We reflected on how bravery makes us important. A willingness to stand up and to stand out can make us important. We are made important by the joy we give and receive, and the hope we imbue in others. We are made important by our solidarity and our community.
Although death has newly undone so many, we resolve to remember those whom we do not know, but whom we love. We honor them at our myriad rituals in the cities and towns of America. We open our arms and take heed of our hearts, stretched and enlarged by mournful, practiced sympathy.
Andy Jones is a lecturer in the university writing program at the University of California, Davis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.