Moments that Disarm
There was another shooting in the news today, this one at a garlic festival just a short drive from where I grew up. As a child, I used to clog (a hick form of tap dancing) and we would perform at festivals like this one - blackberry, pear, and garlic festivals - places you go to be outside, to wander, and maybe sip on some lemonade. You might forget the sunscreen at home, or to bring enough cash, because it’s just that casual. Just an average summer day in which to wander.
But a six-year-old boy, among others, was shot to death yesterday at one such festival in Gilroy California, and I am an animal howling in the daytime, a deflated balloon that falls behind the bleachers. I want to believe that maybe Scout Finch could have disarmed the shooter, if she were real, and knew his son. Do you remember that scene in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird?
An angry mob of men has gathered around the jail cell of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in the 1930s South. They demand that Atticus step aside and let them lynch Tom. The scene is intense, but when Scout runs into the crowd, it adds another layer of tension. Atticus tells her to go home, but she knows he is in danger. She stays. And she spots someone within the fuming dark cloud of men that she knows, Mr. Cunningham. She talks to him about his son, Walter:
"He’s in my grade...and he does right well. He’s a good boy...a real nice boy. We brought him home for dinner one time. Maybe he told you about me, I beat him up one time but he was real nice about it. Tell him hey for me, won’t you?”
The reader holds their breath. And maybe this is where reality and fiction diverge, because Scout’s innocent conversation seems to disarm Mr. Cunningham.
Then he did a peculiar thing. He squatted down and took me by both shoulders.
“I’ll tell him you said hey, little lady,” he said.
Then he straightened up and waved a big paw. “Let’s clear out,” he called. “Let’s get going, boys.”
I want to believe that we can disarm hate with humanity. I want to believe that children like Scout Finch are some magic antidote, but maybe Scout would just be another casualty in a school shooting, a church shooting, a mall shooting, or a shooting at a garlic festival, where children clog to “Achy Breaky Heart” in matching neon t-shirts and moms let their infants try a lick of their ice cream cone.
There is a bright red cardinal outside my window, fluffy and young, looking for beetles between the cracks in my driveway. I know beauty exists. I see it every day. But sometimes the pain of what we do to one another is an angry mob, obscuring my view. Sometimes I don’t have the words to say. It just hurts.
Listen to this sketch