Writing about the arts seems light-weight at the time of extreme violence. I cannot sit silently anymore regarding the tragic events of the past few days in San Bernardino, Paris and elsewhere.
I would like to share a little about guns and my life.
I have a gun in my home. It is a Civil War rifle from an ancestor who fought for the Union and is proudly displayed in a room full of family mementos from over 100 years ago.
In opera we have prop weapons; guns and swords, and what have you. Many guns are real but plugged, or rendered inoperable. Larger companies here and abroad have armories in order to keep them from being taken and to keep them safe. Once the weapon has been used the props man takes it away immediately.
I once was in a production of "Ariadne auf Naxos" in which the director made an unscripted choice to have my character return at the end and shoot himself in the head. Every night I was so nervous and would make the props crew double check the weapon. The sound cue was off stage yet I still did not want to risk an accident. In 2011 a tenor was hit in the leg by debris from blanks while being shot in a production of "Tosca" in Rome. This like all forms of entertainment (!?) is not real life.
Shortly before he died in 2010, my 89 year-old father told me a little about his own father who was apparently a troubled man. He took his life in his late 40s. Dad related that his parents always had "bad fights" and that his father drank a lot. He surmised that he was over his head, stuck fatherhood when still in his late teens. Another comment that stunned me was that my dad was sitting on his back steps at their little red house on North Church Street in Waynesboro, PA when he noticed a loose step. He looked under it, as any curious young boy would do, and there he found a revolver. Without saying a word, he took it and gave it to a friend to dispose of. He was convinced that his father may have hidden the weapon there. (In hindsight perhaps his mother put it there for protection.) At any rate, in his young mind he put together that it was a danger to his family. No mention of it missing was ever made.
When I was in my very difficult first marriage about which I previously have written here, we lived for a brief time in rural Maine. My husband wanted to get a gun. I was adamantly against it because of his mental state and volatility. I knew that in a millisecond it could be misused by him or even by guests at our home.
In the late 1960s and early '70s my family lived for a time in the Maryland mountains where my father worked for the National Park Service. Catoctin Mountain Park did not allow weapons in the park but the state park across the main road did. I was accustomed to hearing gunshots during hunting season. The presence of guns in society in rural Maryland was common and not unsettling because they were used for deer hunting. They were prominently displayed on gun racks in the rear windows of pickup trucks. I knew that was a hunter. I saw the orange hat and vest. I got it. I understood it, even though I would never want to hunt. It never occurred to me that they should not be able to hunt if they had their license and it never occurred to me that they would use these guns for any other than that intended purpose. Occasionally poachers would sneak into the park and the rangers would ask dad if they could carry weapons as well. Dad never acquiesced to this request in spite of the increasing national civil unrest. Looking back I am very proud of him. I believe now most rangers are trained in law enforcement and do carry guns.
My former partner of 16 years took his life with a gun in early 2013 not long after Sandy Hook. I know first hand what trauma gun violence can bring. The man I knew was adamantly anti-gun and anti-death penalty, yet he purchased a gun and used it. He suffered from depression. He did not use insurance for any mental health care because he did not want it on his record in case it would be seen as a negative at work. He was a very accomplished and dynamic person and was great at his job, yet he knew that when it comes to any type of depression, our society and moreover our insurance industry seems to shame us. He apparently passed his background check with no record of any problems.
I share this story to point out that the background check issue is not the only answer in my opinion. The term "gun control" is an oxymoron today. I am not a scholar or researcher in this area but common sense tells me and most of us that there are responsible gun users and there are others. There are also so many weapons in existence that we have created a monster.
Like many people I watch movies and television shows that have extreme gun violence
which I know is not real, but since the suicide of my friend I have great trouble stomaching it.
Are we numb to the power of guns to change lives? Moreover, I struggle with understanding how anyone but a trained member of the military or law enforcement could conceive of taking another life. Many of our politicians talk out of two sides of their mouths. They bang the anti-abortion drum but are adamantly for the death penalty. Having performed in Jake Heggie's opera "Dead Man Walking", based of the story of Sister Helen Prejean's ministry to people on death row, I became more aware of the death penalty issue and believe that it is unjust. Every performance of this opera moves the cast and audience to tears. This well-written work leaves the conclusion up to the audience.
It is wrong to take another life in any circumstance and our government continues to send the message that it can act as God on behalf of the citizens of the United States.
In my humble opinion, there needs to be some consistency when it comes to how we value human life. If as a society we continue to advocate killing in certain circumstances, if we see murder as entertainment, is we continue to devalue the mentally ill and down and out, then we are on the path to societal suicide.
I feel the deepest sympathy and empathy for the families of the victims of gun violence.