Mass Shootings and the American Identity

August 4, 2019

Turbulent times. How to convince yourself you’re still proud to be an American.

To avert your eyes when the headlines flicker across the bottom of a newscast is now second nature. Regardless of what’s being said, the ignorance of not reading the words aloud brings more peace than knowing. To go through life with filtered lenses covering your eyes and ear coverings to block out tragedy is about the only way you can still feel ok by the time the sun sets.

I wonder, how did we get here? Growing up, I held such high esteem for my country, my home. The brave men that defied the European superpowers in the East, the scholars and philosophers that built the great American industries, that sent man to the moon. All of this was absorbed in classrooms with awestruck wonder. 

America the strong, the righteous, the protector. 

Something changed when I was 13 years old, catastrophe struck my sleepy town of Omaha, Nebraska. A young man decided one fateful day in January that his life was no longer worth living. That he would wrap up the little time he had left by strolling into our city’s mall, gun in hand, and destroy the lives of 8 innocent people.

A mass shooting. At the time, these happenings were not yet commonplace. The incident rocked our community and forced the closure of our mall for a long stretch of time. I remember watching the coverage on the news, stricken dumb by the morbidity of it all. My only comfort came from the knowledge that this occurrence was a freakish one. Though it happened, surely it would never happen again. 

The years passed. Von Maur’s tragic event was memorialized. Nebraskans resumed their pleasant lives. 

The frequency of mass shootings rose. 

I remember weeping over the Colorado theater shooting back in 2012. Sandy Hook shortly after in the same year. The news would show the faces of defeated loved ones over and over like clockwork. I felt for them. I felt for them all.

There comes a time when these tragedies are no longer met with sadness. A time when desensitization morphs mourning into anger and unrest. After Las Vegas in 2017 and the ones that followed, no longer did the news spotlight the victims but the politics surrounding these events. American reaction devolved from a torn but united nation into a paranoid and divided war of parties.

And so it continues. You avert your gaze from these stories now because you know it will only bring you grief. You tune out their names, those of the fallen, because to know them would only burden you further. You avoid news outlets from the wisdom of knowing how our politicians and our commentators will spin this. 

Our hearts have hardened. We no longer see. Freak accidents are now a talking point for nominees. They have become a daily problem to solve. A problem no one knows how to solve.

Can we still take pride in what our nation has become? I, an expatriate, do not have the answer. I like to believe so and live in ignorance. My roots are what I value. My faith in the future keeps me from becoming cynical. It’s been hard these past few years to continue on with optimism over our nation’s path. But though I waver, my roots are deep. My love for my fellow Americans ever deeper than that.

We are a nation of fighters and believers. Though our hearts have hardened to the point of anger being our reflex in response to news like this, we still love one another.

We still love one another. 

I think that’s something to be proud of. To take heart in.

Hug your loved ones. Cry with them. Our nation is hurting. I wish I knew how to take that pain away but I do not. All I can say is, Americans, keep your chins up. There still exists some things on our land that we can be proud of. 

At least that is what I must continue to tell myself.


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