Running towards bullets

Jim Kristofic notes in his autobiography, Navajos Wear Nikes, that school violence can be horrifically commonplace on the Rez. Still, most violence happens in homes and in secret. Kristofic's vivid images of patching up bloody abrasions and suturing cuts reflect an awareness, but only a tangential one, of the violence that dominates the everyday reality of people caught in cycles of poverty and trauma. This is true on the reservation and this is true in most places in the U.S. There is no way that just being a "tough noodle" can protect you from eruptions of violence that eventually maim and kill.

There were certainly markers of this kind of extreme violence where I grew up. The family station wagon I spent my early youth packing and riding carried a wound from a school parking lot shootout. While my mom was driving to school, a murderer sprayed a bullet into the tailgate of her car. I don't remember the shooting, save the fact that our car had a scar for taking the projectile--I was only four, after all. I had an awareness that a police officer was killed, as there was a memorial eventually erected in the parking lot. What I also don't remember is much discussion of this kind of extreme violence--which seems a little odd to me because my father was a social worker who dealt with broken lives. It just didn't come up.

In my family, conversations about violence centered upon dealing with the occasional violence we might encounter at school. "Hit back: hit hard," my dad would advise me when he discovered I was thrown in the mud, along with my books and homework, by a group of older kids in 2nd grade; he reminded me to "remember that they don't hate you--they hate their lives" when I was surrounded by a group of kids in 3rd grade who thought it would be funny to try to stone me; he urged me to "remember that you have it better, but know that you have to stand up to people who want hurt you"when I was pulled down from behind and beaten by a group of kids in 4th grade. I eventually learned how to deal with the surface violence. Lay low. Don't bring attention to yourself. Don't be loud. Don't stand too tall. When cornered, make it apparent that you can and will do damage if pressed. Quickly, and with effectiveness.

This kind of temporary hardness helped me when I had a knife pulled on my in junior high, when I played football in high school, when I had to kick wannabe gangsters and drunk troublemakers out of where I worked, and, eventually, when I had to stop would-be rapists on the street. This is the kind of violence that exists around us all. It's what we all swim through, even if we never have to throw a punch or talk down somebody shaking and screaming for a fight in the middle of a busy intersection.

A little less certain, however, is how anybody will deal with circumstances that might result in cascading death. I would like to think I would be like the Sandy Hook principal who ran to stop the slaughter. After all, this March, in South Sudan we ran into the pitch-black night towards the gunshot of an AK-47 to see if we could protect a Thompson's gazelle we were bottle-feeding. Still, there is no way to know how I would deal with this hypothetical. Only soldiers and civilians living in war zones know about living on the serrated edge of these eruptions.

We need to keep demilitarizing our country, until we can see beneath the trauma. We are not there yet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love you lots. Mom