Thoughts, prayers, and our collective failure of imagination and will

Dear President Trump,

Thoughts and prayers. Prayers and thoughts. And thoughts prayers. And prayers thoughts. Thoughts prayers and. Prayers thoughts and. It really doesn’t matter how the words are arranged, does it? The words can even be heartfelt and as sincere as humanly possible and that doesn’t matter either, does it? The people who are dead will still be dead no matter how many earnest prayers are uttered for them or sad thoughts are thought for them. The people who are wounded will still be wounded, and quite possibly disabled for the rest of their lives no matter how many thoughts and prayers they receive. The people who were terrorized by what they saw and heard, by what they feared could happen to them, their loved ones, or whomever happened to be near them, will remain terrorized for months, if not for years no matter how many anguished prayers and thoughts are sent their way.

Imagine, President Trump, and you will have to work hard at this since you live in a bubble and you have the empathy of a screw, but imagine what it would have been like to be going about your usual Saturday grocery shopping at Walmart, putting a box of cereal into your cart, distracted by worries about whether you can really afford everything you need to buy. Imagine what it would have been like to suddenly hear what sounds like gunshots, and to have them quickly confirmed to be gunshots by the fact that all hell was breaking loose and people were screaming and running for the exits. Take a few deep breaths and try to imagine what that might have felt like. Imagine the bile rising in your throat as you try to staunch your own panic so you can figure where the shots are coming from so you can go the other way (no shame in this, but no heroics for you). Imagine you are there with your two small children who are crying and having trouble catching their breaths because they are so scared. Imagine trying to get your children to be quiet so they don’t attract the gunman’s attention. Imagine that the chaos is such that you can’t tell which way might be safe and you just have to pick a direction, knowing full well that it truly means life or death for you and for your children.

Have you been able to put yourself into that horrific situation at the El Paso Walmart? No? Well, I don’t think you are alone in that failure. None of us who were not there and who have not directly experienced similar situations can truly imagine what it was like to be mortally threatened out of the f*cking blue when we were running errands and trying to take care of mundane business (or we were at work stocking shelves or checking people out or cleaning up the spilled grape soda on aisle 4). Most of us see people being mowed down multiple times a day on our little screens, some fictitious, some not – but we still can’t really go there and imagine what it’s like to have to pick right or left, knowing that the wrong choice is going to get you and your children, for real, dead.

Mr. President, people should not have to be in such situations. Ever. Your “right” to millions in campaign financing from the NRA (and I’m counting what the GOP pulls in from them in your personal column) does not trump my right or my sister’s right to go to the grocery, or to work, or to a movie, or to the mall, or to a concert, or wherever she or I want to go without either having to deal with some asshole with a semi-automatic rifle attempting to kill as many humans as he can or having to worry that this could happen.

But we do have to worry about this happening, in no small part because you are still earning your keep with the NRA, scoring cheap points and using gun rights to entrain your base to you. As attention and energy were flagging at the end of your Cincinnati rally just two days ago you pulled out this:

“And just remember, with the Democrats, there is no Second Amendment. You can forget about keep and bear arms. You can forget it.”

You elicited plenty of raucous cheering and clapping with that line, didn’t you? Well, bully for you – you know how to scrape right down to the lowest common denominator, don’t you?

I know that throwing these words in your direction will be about as effective at reducing gun violence as intoning thoughts and prayers or prayers and thoughts, so I feel hypocritical stringing them all together as though they might, maybe, possibly make a difference. But on the off chance that it helps us get our collective empathy and our imaginations in gear even a tiny bit more, it’s worth a try.

May we all be safe wherever our aisle 4’s might be.
May we be willing to contend with the fact that the next Newtown or El Paso could be our town.
May we stop sacrificing our health and well-being to the highest bidder.
May we not make peace with the status quo because it is not making peace with us.

Tracy Simpson

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