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A dialogue with Peggy Noonan on Newtown

Newtown was in de VS al een begrip voordat het berucht werd. Het stond voor middle class America, de plek waar je naar toe wilde voor een hechte gemeenschap en goed onderwijs. En toen kwam er weer een loner met wapens en schoot een klas vol kinderen van 6-7 jaar oud aan flarden, samen met een enkele volwassenen. Ook wij hier in Nederland kennen inmiddels verhalen als deze van dichtbij. Alphen aan den Rijn-achtig dichtbij. Het raakt. Ook hier, ook bij mij. En wat dan de druppel doet overlopen is zo’n reactie van de zijde van de wapenlobby, de NRA. De voorman, ene LaPierre, gaf de schuld aan alles behalve aan de wijze waarop er met wapens wordt omgegaan. En uiteindelijk kwam hij met een oude uitspraak: ‘The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.’ Die uitspraak maakte me woest en gelijk had ik een beeld te pakken waarin ik hem toebijt: ‘the only bad guy I see is you, Mr. LaPierre’. En bijna had ik zoiets getweet, totdat je bedenkt dat je je dan verlaagt tot zijn niveau en bovendien iets zegt wat je niet echt letterlijk waar wilt zien worden: iemand die op LaPierre afstapt met een wapen in zijn hand. Stop die waanzin, wil je alleen maar zeggen. Maar hoe dan?

Het is, vrees ik, heel voorspelbaar wat er in de VS gebeurd na Newtown. De verkoop van wapens is direct toegenomen, de reactie van de NRA om voor iedere school een bewaker te zetten wordt door de overgrote meerderheid van de Amerikanen ondersteund. Je moet er denk ik wonen om zo’n reactie helemaal te kunnen begrijpen, maar tegelijk snap ik het ook wel. Elke andere reactie is moeilijk, complex, afhankelijk van wat anderen en de overheid doen. Meer wapens voor de deur is ook het antwoord niet, hoor ik veel mensen denken, maar laat het in ieder geval maar wel voor de deur van mijn school gebeuren. Wil er dus ooit wat veranderen, dan zal dat bij de leiders van de VS moeten gebeuren. De politieke leiders, tot en met Obama, zijn volstrekt gevangen in onmacht, maar misschien zijn de informele leiders van het land wel in staat om het andere geluid te laten horen. Eén van die leiders is de door mij zeer bewonderde Peggy Noonan. Zij is de oud-speechschrijver van Ronald Reagan en veel van zijn beste woorden komen uit haar pen. De laatste jaren heeft ze vooral faam verworven als columniste voor de Wall Street Journal. Ze is een hartstochtelijk verdediger van haar republiekeinse partij, maar tegelijk lees je tussen de regels door dat ze erg verlangt naar een meer gematigde, verstandige versie van die partij.

Dit weekend zag ik uit naar een column waarin ze iets zou zeggen over de crisis in de Republikeinse partij en de wijze waarop de Amerikanen nu naar de ‘Fiscal Cliff’ toe racen omdat de republikeinse leider van het congres zijn eigen mensen niet eens achter zich krijgt. Een belangrijk deel weigerde in te stemmen met welke vorm van belastingverhoging dan ook. Maar wijselijk schreef Peggy daar niets over. Waar ze wel over schreef was Newtown en dat deed ze op een volgens mij briljante manier. Na de botte woorden van LaPierre was het een weldaad om haar woorden te lezen. Doe uzelf een plezier en lees haar column hieronder. Ik ga echter niet helemaal met haar mee. Ze gaat de discussie over wel of niet terugdringen van wapens net iets te makkelijk uit de weg. Ik heb haar dus een mail gestuurd met mijn Nederlandse reactie. Een dialoog, maar dan geen echte, want ik heb geen idee of ze het ook maar onder ogen krijgt. Toch neem ik de vrijheid om mijn reactie onder haar column te plakken. Want ook wij krijgen in ons verder zo veilige land steeds meer met wapens te maken en ook wij zijn geneigd mee te gaan in de nieuwe wapenrace. Ik eindig mijn mail door de bal bij haar en haar partij te leggen: confront your demons! Maar wij hebben ze ook. Laten we oppassen, in de VS en hier.

 

When Childhood Fears Come True

After Newtown, more parents aren’t going to want to send their kids to school, and more kids will not want to go.

What I keep thinking when the subject turns to Newtown is that childhood is often remembered as a time of joy and innocence, but it’s a time of terrible fears and great frights, too. The young are darkly imaginative.

I knew a 5-year-old girl was so afraid of ET that when she saw a picture of him she’d scream. A friend, a sturdy American journalist, remembered being a child of 6 or 7. “I had monsters in the closet and under my bed. They walked across phone wires into my bedroom window, they slithered up the sides on my mother’s car. Sometimes they had tall pointy heads.”

At 7 or so I developed a fear so deep it kept me from sleeping. One night when the moon was bright and the wind was moving the trees, I looked from my bed into the shadowed closet . . . and suddenly the clothes and the things on the shelf above had transformed themselves into Abraham Lincoln, in top hat and shawl, staring at me and waiting to be shot. That fear came every night for years. At some point a neighbor saw my nervousness or overheard my obsession, asked what was wrong, came to my house, opened my closet and announced triumphantly “See? Lincoln isn’t there!” I knew she meant well, but how dumb can you get? Lincoln only came at night.

A friend, a seasoned lawyer, also was afraid of monsters in the closet, and of “Blackbeard’s ghost materializing in my room at night, from some pirate movie I saw.”

His son, about the same age now as the lawyer when he was hiding from Blackbeard, also has childhood fears. He told his father he’s glad he’s at his grade school because “the middle school is only two stories and it isn’t safe.” He can’t wait to get to the high school “because it’s next to the police station.”

After Newtown, I’m not sure we know what we’re asking of children when we tell them to go to school after this week of terrible images and stories, after hearing “another school shooting” on the news. They all know what happened, or have the general outlines. And children are scared enough.

“What’s so terrible for the little kids who hear about Newtown is that the ‘dream’ monster is now real,” said a friend.

Tragedies are followed by trends, and we know where the conversation is going — gun control, laws for the incarceration of the mentally ill, help for parents with unstable children. But I have a feeling there will be another trend beginning, that it will be slow but long-term: more home schooling. Because more parents aren’t going to want to send their kids to school now, and more kids will not want to go. It is a terrible thing to lose the illusion of safety.Something else about this story. I know so many people who in past tragedies were glued to the TV. They wanted to hear the facts of Columbine, Aurora, Tucson. They wanted to hear what happened so they could understand and comprehend. After Newtown, I’d mention some aspect of the story and they didn’t know, because they weren’t watching. And they’re not going to watch anymore. “Too depressing” they say, softly.

Even journalists who by nature and training want to know the latest fact aren’t, unless they’re working the story, closely following it.

Because it’s too painful now, because they’re not sure anything can be done to turn it around and make better the era we’re in. This new fatalism is . . . well, new. And I understand it, but there’s something so defeated in turning away, in not listening to or hearing the stories of the parents and the responders and the teachers.

***

Many religious people and leaders have come forward to try to speak of the meaning of the event, and the answers to it, but the most powerful words came from the psychologist and former priest Eugene Kennedy, professor emeritus at Loyola University of Chicago. The 85-year-old was interviewed, in a podcast at Investors.com, by the political columnist Andrew Malcolm and blogger Melissa Clouthier.

Religion, said Mr. Kennedy, “isn’t supposed to explain such things” as Newtown. “That’s not the task of religion, never has been.” Religion has to do with the central mystery of existence — “the tremendous and gripping mystery” of being alive. “Joseph Campbell once said people don’t need an explanation of their lives as much as they need an experience of being alive.”

Newtown, like 9/11, reminds us of “the mystery of being alone in the world as it is and as we are.” The world is imperfect, broken, “with cracks running through it.” A central fact of our lives, said Mr.

Kennedy, is that “We are all vulnerable. Anything can happen to anybody at any time.” We have to understand and recognize our vulnerability “as humans on the earth.” We see and experience it every day, “from small disappointments . . . to blows of the heart.” And Newtown is a blow of the heart.

But, again like 9/11, Newtown contained within it “the ongoing fact of revelation.” Both 9/11 and Newtown were marked by a revealing of “the goodness of normal people, which is seldom celebrated” but is central to the balance of the world. When the teachers tried to shield the children — as when on 9/11 people who knew they were about to die called someone to say they loved them — that was “a revelation of their goodness.” It is important in part because “by the light of the goodness of others — by that light we can see ourselves.”

We attempt to respond to tragedies politically. We try to take actions that will make our world safer, and this is understandable. But there is no security from existence itself. The only answer is to “plunge into” life. “We have to engage in life and take it on with all the risks it entails, or we won’t be alive at all.”

He added: “It is better to suffer pain than to live in a world in which you don’t allow yourself to be close enough to anybody to have the experience that’s bound to give you suffering.” And “love guarantees suffering.”

“We’re all on a hero’s journey,” said Mr. Kennedy, from where we began to where we will end. The hero faces challenges along the way. We are like King Arthur’s knights, entering the forest each day without a cut path, and “finding our way through is what we are called to do.” Here, Mr. Kennedy suggested, faith offers not an explanation but the only reliable guide. “Jesus said, ‘I am the way.’ That is not a metaphor.”

 

Confronting your demons 

Gouda, Sunday the 23th of December 2012

Dear Ms Peggy Noonan,

the way you reacted to the Newtown school shooting was another great piece of writing. You went at least two layers deeper than the average headline. Describing the nightmares of the children is at least as relevant as the nightmares of their parents.
By that you have not implied that parents do not have nightmares, just that they are different. The kind of difference we call ‘growing up’. And it is in this respect that I respectfully think that you do should confront the headlines after the shooting, and see that this time the hype has added meaning. Well, at least I hope it does.

I am a member of the christian-democratic party in the Netherlands, meaning I consider myself to be a center-right, well-meaning citizen. Following the great American political dialogue, in which you are an important voice, I came to realize that I am probably more center-left in your eyes than center-right – except for one point. On that point I am much more law and order than many of you are. When it comes to guns I think too many Americans show a criminal mind, inventing shallow arguments to defend the indefensible. Things get worse here in the Netherlands. In no way do I want to set my country up as an example. Even when it comes to the use of guns, things get worse here. But there is still a huge difference between our number of gun related dead and yours in the US, and there is no sensible argument to be made why that difference is not related to your gun policy. Even taking into account ‘cultural’ or ‘constitutional’ arguments, nothing justifies the ease with which you allow an arms race between American citizens that has cost more lives than the arms race of the cold war ever has. Law and order are there to protect the most vulnerable, not to protect the ones who from machismo or even fear turn to guns.

I want the republican party to get back in the race. It will not happen as long as this is the party of Have a Gun and Protect My Millions. Like the little girl and boy afraid of demons in the closet, growing up means confronting your demons.

With kind regards,

 

Peter Noordhoek

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Onze wereld is groot, complex en hoog als een berg. Weersomstandigheden wijzigen zich voortdurend. Hoe kom je dan aan de top?
Kaarten en instrumenten kunnen helpen. U vindt er hier vele. Het echte geheim schuilt in de mentaliteit waarmee u de berg te lijf gaat. Dan geldt wat iemand ooit vertelde: "De noordkant van een berg is het moeilijkste om te beklimmen, maar het meeste de moeite waard." Bij Northedge gaan we voor kwaliteit boven kwantiteit. Het vergt meer denkwerk, meer inspanning, meer van meer. Maar het is zo de moeite waard.  

Peter Noordhoek