“Thoughts and prayers” = morally corrupt shields

Dear President Trump,

Last night I finally got to see the Big Dipper. I managed to block the incredibly bright streetlight in front of our house with my right hand and after letting my eyes adjust for a few seconds, the Big Dipper appeared in the Northwestern sky in all its sparkly glory. And this morning the shreddy pinkish clouds against the blue sky were lovely, as was the cool quiet. When I was out with the dogs in the front yard, a hummingbird whizzed by overhead, clicking in that strange high-pitched way they do, before alighting on a tree branch for a sec. In short, my corner of this upper left part of the country has been calm and beautiful the last 24 hours.

Other corners of our country have been neither calm nor beautiful. People in those other corners of our country have been suffering greatly, or worse, they are suddenly not able to suffer at all. People in Odessa, Mobile, El Paso, Dayton, the list goes on, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were the intended or random victims of someone with weapons of war. They used to live in a country that so far has only been willing to intone “thoughts and prayers” reflexively, but they can’t hear those cheap words because they are dead now or are fighting for their lives. Most of them probably used to have to practice active shooter drills at school or at their workplaces and some of them probably died thinking they somehow failed to follow all the instructions they were given. All of them had thousands of their own unique people, places, times, natural phenomena, and situations they enjoyed, that they loved. They were all fully sentient beings. They were all unique, irreplaceable works of art, as Julius Goat would say. And now they are either dead or have had their lives shattered by gun violence.

Yesterday the Mayor of Odessa, David Turner was quoted in the WP as having said “In a situation like this, prayer is the most important thing. We’ll get through this.” When I first read it, my very strong, out loud to no one, reaction was “You’ve got to be shitting me!” And internally I added “Prayers are not the most important thing right now.”

But what’s with this obsession with thoughts and prayers in the wake of mass shootings (or at least some of them – they were notably absent when the African American teenager, Deangelo Parnell from Mobile, Alabama, shot six of his presumably African American classmates when a fight broke out at a football game)?

There are some obvious motivations for trotting out thoughts and prayers (let’s call them TP for short) including that whoever is hiding behind them is attempting to paper over a mess with something handy they can whip out of their back pocket at a moment’s notice without any personal or political sacrifice whatsoever. Another obvious TP motivation is that it invokes the Almighty God concept and that’s supposed to somehow end all conversation – if you don’t trust (my) Almighty God to take care of you and help you get through this, then you are a worthless heathen and it’s fine for you to die some horrible death. Ok, maybe that isn’t exactly what the TP-ers are thinking all the time when they mouth those TPs, but it’s at least implied that if we were just faithful enough, — well what? I actually don’t know, I can’t fathom what they think some God figure or better faith would get us when it comes to gun violence. What is that? A morally corrupt shield, is what it is.

One TP motivation I do think is clear is that it allows the TP-ers to pretend they are doing something. They get to appear like they care what happened to the innocents who were murdered and to the wounded who may be disabled and maimed for the rest of their lives, who will almost certainly have to deal forever with elevated lead levels in their bodies and memories of the terror they endured and the carnage they saw. TPs are meant to spread a quick, gauzy little bandage that let’s the TP-er off the hook.

It’s interesting though, that there is never any content to these TPs – all any of you ever say is that your TPs are with the victims and their families. Those words do not constitute either thoughts or prayers, they just don’t. Saying “thoughts and prayers” is not the same as sharing real thoughts and real prayers – not that either would be much good in these situations, but you all don’t even go to the trouble to muster anything that takes the least bit of effort. And my guess is that if you were honest about what your TPs are they would be something along the lines of:

“Dear God, please let this unpleasantness pass quickly. Please don’t let it damage me politically. Please God, do not put me in the shitty position of having to pretend I’m going to do something about guns and having to deal with LaPierre over my empty promises. Please God, let me keep my A+ NRA rating and the goodies that come with it.”

This can’t be far off the mark. At all.

May we be safe from politicians who value blood money over their constituents’ lives.
May we be willing to vote them out of office.
May we have the collective spine to change our gun laws in meaningful, life saving ways.
May we patently reject attempts at pacification regarding guns and politics.

Tracy Simpson

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