I wanted to write about Adam West this week. This was going to be a warm and fuzzy farewell to TV’s Batman, full of the echoes of “BAM!” and “ZZONK!” and maybe even a “KAPOW!” or two.
But then shots rang out. Again. And it’s been a little hard to think about anything else.
This time, it crossed the country in a single day. The sites couldn’t have been more different. A baseball field in Virginia where congressmen were practicing for a charity game. A UPS center in San Francisco, where it was just another working day – until suddenly, it wasn’t.
Until the anger reached out. Again.
I used to write about these more. That was when the announcement of a mass shooting was a punch to the gut, a painful shattering of an ordinary day. It demanded to be grappled with, even if there were no clear answers to offer. (Are there ever?) Even if all that could be offered was comfort.
Now it seems more like an old wound, poked and prodded to life again. They’ve not become normal – please, let them never become normal – but the pace has increased and the alarm bells have started to blend with the overall noise. Now, we pay lasting attention mostly when something raises the bar, with maybe a high profile victim (the baseball shooting), or a strange setting (the Aurora movie theater), or a huge casualty list (the Orlando nightclub).
I almost wrote “… or a place we expected to be safe.” But that’s the point, isn’t it? We used to expect safety. Now, we seem to expect anger. No, shootings like this aren’t normal yet, but now they’re punctuation marks rather than breaks in the narrative.
When I was a kid, we used to play a storytelling game called “The Boiler Burst.” It was a narrative version of musical chairs, where whoever was up had to tell a story, usually long and rambling. Sooner or later, the person would have to call out the words “the boiler burst” and everyone would move.
After you’d played a while, you became harder to surprise. You learned how to listen to the story, to listen for the cues that would suggest the punchline was coming. You knew which players would jump to the punch line as quickly as possible, and which ones would draw it out to the point of agony. The more closely you listened, the more ready you were.
I think we need to do some listening now. Because the pressure keeps building. And if it doesn’t stop, the boiler will burst again.
I’m not naive enough to think that we can ever completely scourge this kind of thing from the nation, or that we can ever understand every last motive of every last shooter. But we can grapple with the national anger that gives them a space to grow and flourish. The rage that has touched all of us, even those who have never heard a single shot.
Some of that anger comes from understandable places. There are many among us who fear for their families, or their jobs, or their rights, or their place in the world. When the conversation seems to stop, when those who might be able to help turn into stone walls – or worse, seem to add to the pain – the fear turns to anger and the anger grows.
Some of it is manufactured. From ancient times to now, people have found it convenient to stir up anger and point it at a target – an “other” who can be safely blamed for all their woes. That rage can build mobs. It can build camps. It never, ever builds solutions.
We need to hear where the anger is coming from. We need to listen for the real worries and fears that generate it, and to know when we’re being sold an easy answer. We need to be more aware of each other and our hurts, so that no one has to shoulder their burden alone.
We won’t prevent all the crazies. But we can stop helping them flourish. And if we turn down the volume, maybe, just maybe, we can better hear them coming.
Batman’s not going to burst through the door this time.
This time, we have to come to our own rescue.