A few weeks ago, my husband and I were in the upstairs balcony of a large sporting goods store. Somewhere downstairs, I heard a door alarm beeping, and a woman’s voice urging, “Everyone get out!” She did not say, “Gun.” She didn’t need to. Everyone who heard her knew what she was telling us. (Not everyone heard her. That’s a whole other story.)
This time, it was a false alarm on a balmy Friday evening in a busy shopping district. But the fact that she didn’t need to say the word for everyone to recognize that this could be it, this could be us speaks encyclopedias about the state we are in.
All are impressed with the imminence of death.
It was Thursday. I was finishing up the funeral booklets, and emailing hectically back and forth with the other organizers of the evening Vigil and Call to Action against gun violence. There had been too much death in the past week, natural and unnatural. I was shaking like a caffeine addict on the adrenaline of survival, pushing through the business of gratitude for the life that goes on.
A petitioner came to the door. His genial disposition, artfully easy, introduced him as a salesman. He worked with a construction company, specializing in restoration after an unanticipated building disaster: flood, fire, storm. They would make videos of water shut-offs, gas valves, weak spots. No cost to us upfront, just a promise that we would call them first in the unfortunate and unhoped for event.
Still flipping through his folder, he pointed to the tab in the middle and asked, “Oh, and Active Shooter Drills. Have you done those yet?”
I did not have the time to wonder deeply why a construction company, expert in damp recovery and replastering, thought that an active shooter drill would be right up their alley (nor why we would call them first in the unfortunate event). I did not have the wherewithal in that Thursday moment to explain my theological aversion to drilling fear into our worship, or the stubborn resistance to the inevitably of guns everywhere that stems from the sanctuary of my foolish faith.
I wondered if the man had seen the signs outside, advertising the evening Vigil. I wondered whether that would make him more or less inclined to offer a side of gun violence with his list of anticipated disasters. I wondered what he read in my face. He switched gears so quickly that even he, smooth as oil, almost snagged.
All are impressed with the imminence of death, not only for themselves but their dear ones.
In the meantime, I was reminded (via Twitter, redeeming itself) that Dorothy Day declined to participate in the nuclear air raid drills that followed the detonation of the American atom bomb, and the Cold War that followed hot on its heels.
In an Introduction to Day’s Selected Writings, Robert Ellsberg wrote,
Dorothy considered this situation in the light of the Gospel. In the face of weapons of indiscriminate destruction, the teaching of indiscriminate love had, she believed, become a practical necessity, an imperative. To live under the “protection” of such weapons without resisting, without raising an outcry, was, in her view, to participate in the ultimate blasphemy.
Dorothy Day: Selected Writings, Edited with an Introduction by Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books, 2005), xxxv
Try reading the introduction to the column Day wrote three months after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and substitute for the atom bomb the AK-47, the AR-15, the assault rifle, the semi-automatic, and tell me it doesn’t ring true. She wrote:
Wherever we go there is talk of the atom bomb. All are impressed with the imminence of death, not only for themselves but their dear ones; for all about them.
And she added,
Down in Washington … The great ones of the earth are conferring. …What to do?
We can only suggest one thing – destroy the two billion dollars’ worth of equipment that was built up to make the atomic bomb; destroy all the formulas; put on sack cloth and ashes, weep and repent.