Answering an unimaginable, unwanted call
June 17, 2022
Most mornings, my 13 year old son wakes up at 6:15 am and stumbles out to the couch, where he goes back to sleep for an hour. Usually he finds me there, or I find him, and he uses me as a pillow. It’s been this way since he was born; we’re tuned into each other’s rhythms in the morning. Usually I read the news on my phone while he sleeps. Today, I couldn’t.
Uvalde is about four hours from our home. Santa Fe, Texas is much closer — only an hour away. Sutherland Springs is closer, too — about two hours. El Paso is a day away by car. Buffalo, New York, and Laguna Beach, California, are a flight away. So is Orlando, home of the Pulse Nightclub, and Parkland, Florida, the home of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Danny and I happened to watch a short piece on Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ activism this weekend, which saved the Everglades from development. The survivors of the shooting at her namesake high school live her spirit as they answer the unimaginable, unwanted call to speak their experience, to shock us into a collective accountability we continue to avoid.
Our namesake, C.G. Jung, wrote that “…when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate.” The conflicts we do not resolve get enacted in the world. This is as true of a community or a nation as it is of an individual. Therapists often find that families come to treatment seeking to “help” a struggling family member. Clinicians call this person the “identified patient.” Their suffering behavior is not the actual problem. Usually, there is a deeper abuse of power, boundary violation, trauma that is being consciously and unconsciously avoided within the family. Unwittingly, and often in great pain, that struggling family member is bearing witness.
The innocent, marginalized people that continue to die in horrific ways reflect a continuing, horrific refusal to account for deeper problems. They — and the shooters — are the identified patients. What inner collective situation is being lived out again and again in the death of black and brown people at Wal Mart and Tops Grocery, elementary school children in Uvalde and Newtown, people worshipping in Pittsburgh, Charleston, Sutherland Springs? What powers are served by continuing to hide that inner situation?
These are questions that have to be asked collectively, with rigor and consequence. What is real is that ours is the only country facing this problem on this scale. We have more guns than people in this country. What larger forces need us to have instantaneous access to weapons of mass killing? What powers does it serve? And for what inner situations is it compensating?
In three hours, I’ll walk with my son back to his middle school, where he’ll receive a new belt in karate. He’s almost a black belt in Krav Maga, too - that’s how we spend most Saturdays. He’s a sweet, loving child. He’s never been in a fight. And he is intuitively, unconsciously preparing to defend himself. Why? What unaddressed fate awaits him? What failure of parenting and citizenship will he be forced to bear?