This past week was dominated by stories involving the issues of gun violence in the everyday life of America. Heightened awareness due largely to the soul-searing tragedy in Newtown and the ensuing national debate makes us more sensitive to these incidents, most of which occur in some form or another every week. Still, taken together they create an impression that is heartbreaking, jarring, provocative, confounding and moving.
Late on Saturday night In Lilburn, Georgia, not 18 miles from where I live, a man named Phillip Sailors aimed his gun at the driver of a car that he thought had driven up to his house with malicious intent. Instead Rodrigo Abad Diaz, along with his girlfriend and two other men had accidentally turned into the driveway due to a GPS error. Although the car was backing up after Sailor had fired a warning shot in the air, he proceeded to shoot and kill the driver. Sailors, a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran has been charged with murder.
This past Thursday in Omaha a man named David Erives drew his weapon when he saw his wife being overpowered by a man at their front door. In this case, according to Erives he first threatened, then non-lethally shot the supposed attacker, but when the man, Raul Rivas refused to yield, Erives shot him dead. It turns out that his wife knew Rivas and there may be more to the story. However, authorities ruled that given what he saw in front of him, Erives acted properly and will not be charged.
In Chicago a 15-year-old girl named Hadiya Pendleton, who had performed as a majorette at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, was one of two people shot by an unknown gunman who sprayed bullets into a playground near their school, King College Prep. Hadiya died from her wounds. She is one of more than 40 people to be murdered by a gun in Chicago this month.
In Alabama a man named Jimmy Lee Dykes shot and killed a schoolbus driver and took a young child hostage into an underground bunker where he is at this time still holed up while facing off with law enforcement and negotiators. He has apparently equipped his bunker for long term survival in case of a breakdown of society. Motives are unknown, but Dykes was scheduled to appear in court on charges of unlawfully firing into a neighbor's property in the midst of a dispute.
In Atlanta a 14-year-old boy, Telvis Douglas, was injured by another student who shot him in the neck while they were at school Price. Douglas is now in stable condition. The assailant was disarmed by a resource officer, an armed off-duty policeman, and it was unclear whether he had planned on doing more damage.
And while these and many other incidents took place in these recent days, hearings on legislation suggested by the President's Gun Control Task force convened in Washington to hear testimony for and against proposals such as universal background checks and bans on certain types of firearms and ammunition that are capable of being used to deliver maximal lethality in a minimal amount of time. The hearings were highlighted by an impassioned call for courageous action by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who remains partially blind and suffers brain damage after her miraculous recovery from being shot in the head by a gunman at one of her own public gatherings in Tucson. During the hearings news came in of yet another mass shooting -- this one in Phoenix.
These stories are all incomplete and each of us reads into them our own ideas. In some of these cases guns may be used with intent to protect and in other's to harm. In some the weapons or situations in question would not be directly affected by the legislation being proposed. Some incidents remind us that the need for self defense and thus the Second Amendment is not to be taken lightly. Still each story testifies as to how much violence, how much fear, how much tragedy is woven into the fabric of what makes up the reality of our country and the blood spilled in each one is a solemn reminder that we have allowed ourselves to become used to this state of affairs. We have become deafened in some way by the ubiquitous sound of gunfire.
This week is also the week in which we read on Shabbat about the unworldly moment when the Children of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai. While on one hand we think of what was given at Sinai as specific laws and statutes, much of the description given in this section is about the experience itself of standing at the foot of the mountain in the presence of G*d at the moment of revelation. One of the phrases used in Hebrew translates literally to "The people were seeing the voices." Why "seeing voices" instead of "heard the voices"? Maybe because the power of hearing is limited to only being able to hear one thing at a time and thus can only hold one thread at a time without everything getting mixed up and lost. Sight on the other hand allows us to perceive a picture that may hold many aspects, even contradictory ones and yet still take it all in. Receiving Torah, embracing G*dliness in our lives, goes hand in hand to be attuned and to attend to different stories without losing the bigger vision.
Above the crash of stories that are too painful and too common to fully process, may we find insight to see the world as it is and vision to help repair the brokenness.