Who Are We?

On September 17th I was at the courthouse in Lovingston, VA.  Why is the flag at half-mast? I thought to myself.  A second later I remembered.  Oh, that’s right.  There was a mass shooting yesterday, and I went about my business.

That’s messed up.

The yearly average of mass shootings has tripled from an average of five per year between the years of 2000 and 2008, Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday at an annual conference of police chiefs. At least 12 mass shootings have taken place in 2013.

And yet this country has done close to nothing to correct this situation.

But let there be mere rumors of a couple of people attempting to cast their votes without proper identification, and the laws of this land can’t be changed fast enough.  A national crisis.

Let’s break this down.  Our children and families are being gunned down in public, very often in public schools – schools that were established with great intention by the founding fathers.

A quick back-of-the-envelope count of shootings in American schools (not counting other places) over the past ten years paints a grim picture.  Somewhere around 150 gun deaths have occurred during that time.

Suppose someone suggested a lottery, where 15 luckless students and/or teachers were selected each year, then shot to death in front of their classmates.  Would we as American citizens endorse such an idea, or would we decry it as barbaric?

Because that’s pretty much what we have right now and we’ve done very little to discourage it.  I am tired of seeing the flags at half mast.  Disgusted that the term “mass shooting” is a regular part of our lexicon.  Weary of wondering time and time again:  Who are we?




In preparation for a trip from their rural home to an even more obscure rural destination across the mountains in the Shenandoah Valley an hour away, Kevin and Linda program their GPS unit.

Drive 3.6 miles to Highway 29, the no-nonsense voice (Garmina, they call her) directs them.   Fifteen miles later, they make an unprogrammed detour on Roberts Mountain Road.

Recalculating, Garmina says.  Kevin and Linda laugh.  “We probably should have alerted her,” they say.

Drive .6 miles, then turn right on Hickory Creek Road, says Garmina.    They turn left on Thurman’s Hollow Road.  “This will drive her crazy,” they say as they turn up a gravel driveway to drop something off at a friend’s house before heading to the valley.

Recalculating, says Garmina, rushing to catch up.

“You will recalculate three times before the cock crows!” they joke.

They picture her, middle-aged woman in a small office in a large warehouse far from Virginia— in Brooklyn, say— computer perched on a dented metal desk, maps spread out before her.  Bad coffee sits cold in a Styrofoam cup rimmed with half-circles of lipstick. Ashes spill out of an overfull ashtray, cigarette smoke curls up toward the hazy afternoon light that filters through the broken venetian blind in the one dirty window.

Garmina was young once.  She had ambitions.  But that was many auditions and nearly as many rejections ago.  Two divorces, one eviction and seven lousy jobs later, here she sits in this run-down slum of a warehouse, working for people in a far-off high-rise, doing more with less; her only goal to get Kevin and Linda from one happy location to another, while they have a ball, sing along to music on their car stereo, and sometimes even mock Garmina, as though she could not hear their every word.  As if they were not totally dependent on her tracking their every move.

They’re back in the car now. Continue to highlighted route, Garmina instructs, with the same measured tone that belies her frustration.  And this time they do.  Their detour complete, she watches as they resume the original route she so carefully mapped for them; monitors their progress as they climb Afton Mountain, merge onto I-81 North, then exit at Mt. Sidney and wind their way to their final destination.

It’s 5:30 in Brooklyn. Garmina slides onto her stool in the already crowded bar as the bartender sets ‘the usual’ in front of her.  “You’re half an hour late,” he says wiping the varnished wood with his white cloth.  Jesus H. Christ, Garmina says, leaning forward as he lights her cigarette.  Some people shouldn’t be allowed to drive…