A Year-End Reflection on a Tragedy

 

Ben Dumas hopes that giving love in the midst of recent tragedies can provide a foundation to grow.

The events of the Newtown tragedy have been heavy on my heart and on my mind since the news first broke. Until now, I’ve been silent about my opinion on the matter because I didn’t have one other, than heartbreak and disbelief. Instead, I took time to pray, think, reflect, and read the reflections of others in order to try and gain some sort of understanding of my own feelings. I still don’t have it figured out, but these are my reflections and feelings thus far.

At first, gun control seemed to be everyone’s first response. The amount of posts about gun control on social media sites was astounding, and it was a number that I was a part of. It was a knee-jerk reaction with overly simplistic logic that, unfortunately, cannot lead to any comprehensive, or even successful, solution. The national logic seemed to be, ‘It was a gun that killed these children, so it was the gun’s fault.’ Gun owners, manufacturers, and advocates were all instantly in the spotlight as the nation searched for answers.

This is certainly a huge issue for us as a nation. The amount of guns we buy, sell, provide and carry is absurd to me, but it’s only part of the puzzle. As a good friend pointed out, ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ There’s more to discuss than just gun control, and this is where our next national knee-jerk led us.

Mental health became a topic of discussion. If it wasn’t just the gun’s fault and someone had to pull the trigger, then that person must be to blame. Again, this is overly simplistic logic that only hurts an already marginalized community of people in our nation.

I believe we must be diligent in the way we speak about these events in Newtown and similar events throughout the U.S. and the world. We are so quick to label the perpetrator as ‘sick,’ ‘crazy,’ or ‘insane,’ and by doing this, we stigmatize mental health as a whole. Not all who are mentally or emotionally ill have any desire to harm another person, let alone a child. I also believe that not every shooter in each of these past situations has been mentally ill, yet it remains part of the ongoing discussion and I believe it needs to.

Gun control and mental health seemed to be our nation’s initial reactions to this situation, but I’ve also observed some more emerging trends. The issue of masculinity has since been brought to the light, and I am very happy that it has. As a young, college-aged, male, I believe that our society has expectations for its males which are entirely out of reach. These expectations produce an unattainable sense of hyper-masculinity in which males are constantly striving to be the biggest and the best because they are constantly told they are not good enough.

Young men are supposed to be responsible, brave and strong. They are not supposed to fear anything, and are supposed to be able to provide for themselves and others without anyone’s help. But what if a young man cries like I have been? Is he any less of a man? What about the husband who works two jobs to provide for his family, yet continues to struggle to make ends meet? Is he less of a man? What about the husband who has to watch his wife suffer through cancer, or the man who is struggling with depression? Can they not reach out for help? Are they any less masculine if they do? I think not. But as a nation, I think our answer would be yes.

And in our nation, the only way a man can prove his masculinity and earn back his ‘man-card’ is to prove his strength and his dominance. Unfortunately, this often comes through an act of violence; whether it be the violent suppression of their own feelings, violence enacted through one of our many worshipped video games, verbal or emotional violence taken out on those close to them, or as we’ve seen all too often, violence through the barrel of a gun.

This is the cowardly solution to regaining one’s masculinity that we provide as a nation. We cannot continue to shape our young men through these experiences and standards. We are not creating men. We are only creating a breed of people with male genes who resort to violence at the mention or hint of any problem.

And of course, we have our friends who have been claiming that this happened because God has been taken out of the schools or because we haven’t been following God as a nation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. God didn’t need to take out any anger on the American people, and surely, God wouldn’t do so through the lives of 20 elementary school children. Not my God. Not any loving God. These children were not meant to be with God as a result of God’s judgement, they were meant to stay where they were, with their parents, a result of God’s love. Regardless, this has become another piece of the puzzle; one which I have my doubts we will ever come to a consensus on.

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But now what? It seems there’s been a lot of talk, but nothing tangible that us normal folk can do. No one can singlehandedly stop the sales and use of guns. One person cannot fix our mental health system. It’ll take more than one person to fix our deeply valued sense of violent masculinity, and surely no religious proof-texting or finger pointing will do much good, so what are we left with?

I was left asking myself the same question–until last night.

I spent my time at work last night teaching a kindergartner how to write ‘Merry Christmas’ on one of the cards that our church will be taking to a local nursing home for the holidays.

But across the U.S., a parent taught their young child, about the same age, to write this. A note he is sending to his friend in heaven.

 

Let that sink in for a second.

I hope it hits you as hard as it hit me.

It isn’t fair that I still have the opportunity to work with this child while a family lost a son, a boy lost his friend, and a teacher lost a student. ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘I’ll talk to you in my prayers’ are on entirely different levels. I couldn’t imagine teaching a child to write that, but someone had to. And not just one family, but an entire city of them.

This is where we come in. The everyday individual. I believe there is a change we can make, and this change is love. As sappy and cliche as it may sound, I believe this is the change we need. This world is aching for more love.

Yes, we need gun control. Yes, we need better mental health programs and better rhetoric to discuss these kinds of tragedies. Yes, we need to fix the way we approach masculinity. Yes, we need to stop looking at these events as divine judgement.

But what I believe we really need is love.

It is through our love that we can begin to mend; as parents, as youth workers, as teachers, as children, and as a nation.

It is through our love that we can seek a foundation for our heavy hearts.

It is through our love that we will trust our neighbor to set down their weapons as we faithfully set down our own.

It is through our love that we will better provide for and speak about a marginalized and jeopardized part of our national community.

It is through our love that we will accept the men of our nation as the broken and weak people they are.

It is the loving nature of God which we must emulate in our daily lives.

And it is only through sincere acts that flow from loving hearts that we will be able to make any progress toward making our world, our nation, our communities, our schools and our homes safer and better places, not only for us, but for our children.

I’m not sure if we all got what we wanted under our trees or in our stockings this holiday season, but what we all need is love. Forget about the presents and the carols. Forget about the wish lists and the fancy meals. Forget about the lights and the wrapping. But please don’t forget those families in Connecticut, and please don’t forget to love with an acceptance, a compassion, and a trust that can, and will, change the world.

photo by Smath / flickr

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About Ben Dumas

Ben is a senior at Hastings College in Nebraska where he currently resides. He will graduate in May with Bachelors degrees in Religion and Peace, Justice, & Social Change. He is a soon-to-be-married music addict/theology enthusiast/social critic/youth director who dabbles in preaching, loves to write, and wants to change the world one ounce of hope at a time.

Comments

  1. You’re a good man, Ben.

  2. Thanks Joss! Appreciate your reading!

  3. Lead this next generation into a kinder world, Ben! That was beautifully written.

  4. I am very fortunate to work with Ben at Grace UMC. He is our Youth Director. Ben is a remarkable young man and this article just proves it. Great job, Ben – very proud of you for writing this.

  5. Very well done. Think you summed up many a persons feelings.

  6. Ben, this is a stunning piece. With men like you coming up in our world, we may actually have a chance of making this change. And there are many others (men and women, like me) who will be right there with you.

    • Thanks Jo! I appreciate your support and look forward to moving forward with you and the others who feel the same as we do. Together, we can make a change.

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