I was at Virginia Tech during the shootings, and there is, simply, no recovering from something like a spree shooting. You do learn to move on, but you go forward heartbroken, and always worrying. The worrying gets worse when you become older. At the time, my undergraduates seemed to be more resilient, bouncing back, lifting up the spirits of both the faculty and the graduate students. The graduate students were more like us. It’s like you grow up, really, when you realize that not only are you not indestructible, but those whom you cherish are not indestructible, and anything that happens to them is worse, much worse, than if it happens to you.
And then you realize there is a razor’s edge between a simple, ordinary day with its pleasures and chores, and your worst nightmares—and there is nothing you can do about that edge. You can be careful, you can urge everybody to careful all the time, you can avoid pushing your luck, and one glitch, something that you didn’t do, or something you did, and suddenly you’re on the wrong side of the razor’s edge before you know, and it all comes down on top of you anyway.
Among the many things that do not help after the misery of such an event is the media frenzy and yammering that ensues, where everybody with a political axe to grind begins to grind that axe on top of your pain. This should have happened. That should have happened. Things should have been different. If only.
But things aren’t different. They are what they are.
Since the shootings in Arizona, there has been the usual flurry, along with a lot of recriminatory language directed at Sarah Palin. And there are, of course, the gun control worries. And, then, the mental health worries.
I am not the sort of person who believes we can prevent every tragedy, and I don’t think that Sarah Palin and her people are responsible for anything but being pretty-girl avatar for an ugly part of American conservatism, one that japes at being working class and rural. The “You Might Be A Redneck If..” tradition that has replaced real working class people with a set of mediated images and archetypes that do not really reflect with any authenticity the real working class rural people I grew up with.
Like a pop country song drenched in syrupy Christian sentiment, Palin’s brand has been constructed to sell and grab air time–and why wouldn’t people look to that message at least a partial representation of themselves, when so little real experience of rural life–let alone life among the rural poor–makes its way into political and social life?