another mass shooting

Another week, another horrific mass shooting in America.

Another post I did not want to have occasion to write.

As some of you know, I live in the Binghamton, New York area, which was the scene of a 2009 mass shooting at the American Civic Association. Because of this, I know that these crimes can happen anywhere in our country. We lost the sense of “it can’t happen here” years ago.

Every time there is another mass shooting, much of the public response seems the same. “It’s a mental health issue, not a gun issue.” (Unless it is Muslim shooter, in which case it is a terrorism issue, not a gun issue.) “It’s disrespectful to talk about gun control when people are in mourning.” Corollary: we can talk about gun control later, except that we as a country are always in mourning/recovery from a mass shooting because they happen so frequently, so the “appropriate time” for the discussion never arrives. “The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.” “The guns were all legally purchased.” “This (insert gun control proposal here) would not have stopped (insert particular mass shooting here) from happening.”

Enough. Time for a reality check.

The issue is complicated. It needs and deserves thoughtful analysis and strategies to prevent future incidences. It needs and deserves consistent attention from the public and from public officials, because it is about the health, safety, and well-being of individuals and the country.

Yes, the mental health treatment system in the United States needs to be more robust, affordable, and compassionate. The shooter at the ACA was known to be mentally ill; his father begged the state of New York not to issue him a gun license, but the laws at the time allowed it. To its credit, New York made some legal changes to tighten qualifications for gun licenses and accessories like high-capacity magazines. New York has also made mental health treatment more accessible, as has the Affordable Care Act on the national level. Anyone who is serious about preventing mass shootings and other forms of violence needs to be serious about funding outreach and access to mental health services.

This leads to discussion of another characteristic that many mass shooters share, a history of domestic abuse. It lends even more weight to the current growth in public awareness of how widespread sexual harassment and assault are in our society. Abuse of all sorts is at its roots an abuse of power. Firearms in the hands of an abuser multiply the destructive force to the victim/s. Yet, too often, perpetrators of domestic or sexual violence are not prevented from owning firearms and are not adequately treated for their mental health problems.

The second amendment to the US Constitution is usually quoted only in part, only about the right to keep and bear arms not being infringed. If one reads the whole amendment and looks at the historical context, it is clear that the intent of the framers had to do with militias, not an absolute individual right. In July of 2016, I had a guest viewpoint on gun control published in the local paper; you can read it here. I think it can help to consider other military arms at this point. Do you think the second amendment gives individuals the right to own a rocket-propelled grenade launcher or a nuclear missile? Those are “arms,” as well. Should a military assault rifle be considered differently?

…which leads to my next point. We need to look at what kind of guns and accessories are available for sale to the general public. Fully automatic weapons are banned, so why is it legal to sell bump stocks that make semi-automatics behave like fully automatic weapons? Hunting for game is an old and time-honored tradition and most people use hunting rifles for this purpose. Even for the minority of hunters who use assault-type weapons, it seems that high-capacity magazines are not necessary. If you need thirty bullets to take down your prey, you are not skilled enough be hunting. I think that weapons designed for military use should not be in the hands of civilians and hope that Congress will again consider an assault weapons ban.

There should be public health research about guns and gun violence. Federal funding for this kind of research has been highly restricted due to the gun lobby’s leverage with members of Congress. Sadly, the presence of a gun in a household increases the risk that someone in the household will die or be injured with a gun. There are many heart-breaking instances of children inadvertently killing a sibling or friend after finding and playing with a gun in their home. Most people do not know that the majority of gun fatalities in the United States are suicides. Obviously, this ties into the mental health topic as well, but I don’t think that people who buy a gun for protection realize that owning a gun increases the chances that someone in the household will be injured or killed by a gun instead of protecting against that. People need all of these public health facts to inform their decisions and viewpoints.

Today – and every day – are appropriate ones to discuss and work on issues surrounding gun violence. There is never a day when someone is not mourning death or injury by guns, whether through mass shootings or other crimes, accident, or suicide. This is not an insoluble problem; nearly every other country has managed to cut gun deaths to low levels per capita.

The United States can do it, too.

Let’s begin today.

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scooter

My dad, known here at Top of JC’s Mind as Paco,  bought a new vehicle this week, his first indoor scooter.

With Nana (my mom) under hospice care at their apartment, Paco has been walking down to the dining room and offices of the retirement community several times a day to get menus and pick up food. (The community center is in an adjacent building to the apartments connected by a passageway with lots of windows to take in the view.)

Although Paco is 92, he still walks well without the support of a cane or walker, but he does sometimes get pain in his hip from bursitis. Lately, his hip was bothering him on his evening trip to pick up supper, so he looked into getting a scooter.

I brought him to the medical supply store on Thursday to look at the floor models. He chose a simple three-wheeled design that is compact enough to fit beside the little table between the kitchen and living room, close to an electrical outlet.

It won’t need to be plugged in very often because it can go five miles on a single charge!

The scooter was delivered yesterday and spouse B, daughter T, and I went up yesterday evening to watch him take it on its inaugural trip through the hallways. It’s easy to control and has a tight turning radius, as well as a reverse setting, so he should be all set for the dinner run tonight.

He is looking forward to surprising his friends with his new ride!

 

Nana and mocha

I apologize, dear readers, for my recent absence from Top of JC’s Mind. I’ve been trying wildly to catch up on what I missed being away for a week while dealing with an avalanche of current happenings. This post begins an effort to bring you up to date.

While Nana had a bit of an acute sickness just as I returned home, when that cleared, she regained a bit of her old energy, though, as expected with her level of heart problems, not enough to be out and about.

Still, it is heart-warming to speak to her on the phone and hear her sounding a bit like she did for decades when we used to talk every morning while I was on my treadmill and she on her stationary bike.

Her appetite has picked up, too. We are still keeping her supplied with lemon pizzelles, a favorite treat she enjoys daily. She has also been eating coffee ice cream on a regular basis.

On my first day back in North Adams, I went to Moulton’s Spectacle Shoppe to ask them to hang a poster for our poetry reading and to ask if they had any mocha sauce in the refrigerator. Yes, that seems like an odd thing to ask in an eyewear store, but the Moulton family is heir to the mocha sauce recipe that made Apothecary Hall’s soda fountain a regular destination for area folks. The Moulton’s used to sell the sauce in their general store on Main Street, but, since that closed, they have made a batch monthly and sold it at their eyeglass store – for those who knew to ask for it. They didn’t have any on hand, but agreed to make a batch in the next week so that I could pick some up before I had to leave town.

I was thrilled to be able to present my mom with mocha sauce for her coffee ice cream. She even sprinkles on chopped nuts, which was traditional for Apothecary Hall sundaes. Paco has been enjoying some mocha sundaes, too, although I think that Nana probably eats them a bit more often than he.

And, yes, I have written a poem about mocha sundaes, which I read when the Boiler House Poets gave their reading on October fourth.

There is a new poem drafted about this recent mocha experience, which I am hoping will make its way into the collection, which is waiting patiently in my google docs for a major re-organization.

She says, mentally eyeing her calendar…

 

The Big Sick

Back when it was in theaters this summer, B and I went to see The Big Sick. It was written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, based on their real-life courtship – which involved Emily being in a coma. This is not a spoiler; it was well known before the movie came out, so I thought I would be able to handle it.

I was looking forward to going to the theater with B because we hadn’t gotten out much on our own, as we are in a major sandwich generation phase. It seemed like a good choice because the movie is a romantic comedy. Not only do we know that the couple get together in the end but it is also about a comedian (Nanjiani plays himself in the film) with lots of jokes in the show.

I did like the movie and think that it was well done. It was hard for me to write about it at that time, but it is now coming out on DVD, so this seemed a good time to revisit it and put out a post.

As I said, I knew the basic storyline, but there were things that were jarring to me. The first time we saw Emily on a ventilator reminded me of the last time I saw a family member with a tube.

Seeing Emily’s parents dealing with the doctors and trying to find the best care for their daughter brought back memories of dealing with past medical problems with my daughters. Emily’s parents are told that the doctors know what is going on and the treatment will work – and then it doesn’t. I know what that feels like. I know how desperately you want to protect your child and find the right person to help them get better. I know how little power you have in that situation.

Although the details are very different, I could also relate to the themes of family tensions around the experience of being an immigrant or the child of immigrants, religious differences between generations and spouses, and bi/multiracial families.

Erma Bombeck wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” The Big Sick walks that line in a very human and meaningful way.

 

SoCS: the birth of ABC

Things have been very busy here, so I wasn’t sure I would SoCS this week, but when I saw the prompt, I knew I had to join in.

Birth has been on my mind a lot this year. Our daughter E has been living with us this year. When she and her husband L left Honolulu last December, L’s graduate student visa expired, so he had to go back to the UK. It will take a while to qualify for a spousal visa for E, so she has been living here in New York State with us.

She and L were expecting their first child on July first or so. It was hard to be apart, but it meant that I got to help out with things like going for ultrasounds. L was allowed to have a 90-day visa for the birth. He arrived in mid-May in time to attend an all-day blitz childbirth class. At one point, they had thought that he should go back to the UK and return in mid-June for the 90-day stay, but they decided to just have him remain after the childbirth class.

This turned out to be a good move as their baby girl arrived on June 6, three and a half weeks before anticipated. I wrote about this emotional time here.

It was great to have E, L and Baby ABC here with us for those first two months. Now that L is back in the UK, they visit often by skype. We are looking forward to a visit from L in October and another in time for ABC’s first Christmas.

We are trying to savor every minute as we expect that E and ABC will re-locate to London early in 2018. It will be bittersweet as we want them to be together full-time as a family, but it will be so hard to have them so far away.

ABC already has two passports, though, so she is all set to travel! Of course, she will need to bring at least one parent along!
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “birth/berth.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/09/01/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-217/

 

US Healthcare Update

Overnight, the Senate defeated the Affordable Care Act repeal bills. It wasn’t pretty, with 49 Senators willing to take health insurance away from millions of Americans, but 51 Senators stood up for us.

Now, we need Congressmembers from across the spectrum to engage with each other to craft legislation that improves and expands the Affordable Care Act so that everyone has access to affordable, quality health care. There are already some bill drafts that do that available as a starting point.

Let’s go.

finding hope in impossible times

I had hoped that my next post would be about ABC’s baptism and the family visits around that, but I haven’t been able to get organized to write it.

There has been a lot going on and a lot swirling in my head, so maybe this post will help…

My parents raised me to always do my best. I was fortunate that my best generally also stood me in good stead in school and in life experiences, as I juggled my various roles and tried to do good in the world.

When my children were young, there was a book about being a “good enough” parent. I remember bristling at the concept, because I was geared to be a “best I could be” parent – and daughter, spouse, sister, friend, citizen, Catholic, volunteer, committee member, musician, person.

The current roster of roles now includes grandparent, blogger, and poet.

And it doesn’t feel as though my best, even when I am able to muster it, is good enough.

Not even close.

With my mom in hospice care and granddaughter ABC in residence, there has been massive re-prioritizing, which is necessary and good and understandable. Some things in which I was accustomed to being very active, such as public policy and social justice advocacy, have been sharply curtailed, unfortunately at a time when my country is coming apart at the seams. I am keeping some of my poetry and blogging activities going, but in a scattershot way as I have time/brainpower available.

(It is not especially helpful to have Facebook reminding me how many days it has been since I posted to the Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page.)

I think, though, that the root of the problem is that nothing I do, whether it is my best or not, can change the fact of the mounting losses. Illness and decline and death and people moving away and rejection and running out of time and all manner of losses, anticipated or unforeseen, will keep happening, no matter what I or any of us do, think, or philosophize over.

And, yes, I know circle of life and faith and recommendations to take care of myself notwithstanding, some days are just difficult to get through without tears.

Sometimes, those days with tears string together.

I am blessed, though, with people who bring me as much support and comfort as they can when I am struggling. B to talk with and give me hugs. The warmth of ABC snuggling in my arms. E and L to step in and make dinner when I can’t wrap my head around the concept of eating, much less shopping and cooking. My sisters with calls, notes, and visits. Friends who are sending thoughts and prayers and who understand my sporadic contact.

Earlier this week, I was looking for a bell for Nana to use to call her nighttime aide. Unsure where to look, I went to a dollar store near the pharmacy where I was picking up one of Nana’s prescriptions. I don’t often go to dollar stores, so it was a bit difficult to figure out where to look. I had started to check out some possible aisles when I heard the unmistakable sound of a bell. I followed it to find a girl carrying a little bell toward the checkout where her grandmother was waiting for her.  I waited until they had finished their transactions and asked where they had found it. (The grandmother told me that the bell said “Ring for Beer” on it and that they were getting it for a beer-loving dad.) The girl cheerfully led me through the store to the shelf in the gifts aisle that held the bells. I thanked her. I chose a bell that said “Ring for Service” on it, paid $1.08, and brought it up to my mom’s, who was surprised that I had been able to find a bell so quickly.

(Feel free to insert your favorite It’s a Wonderful Life, serendipity, answer to prayer, etc. thoughts here.)

For me in that moment, it was a reminder that hope and help can appear unexpectedly in the midst of sadness and confusion and uncertainty.

I just have to listen and allow myself to be led.