The Littoral Life: What Might Have Been

By Dan Haag

Another blood-spattered street. Another incredulous family member claiming “we never saw this coming.” Another impromptu memorial fence filling up with stuffed animals, candles and balloons. It’s all too familiar, as are the daily news reports of gun violence in Portland, Chicago, Baltimore, and New York.
More orphans, more widows.

True to form, the narrative is shifting to the vocal fear passed down from on high that someone, somewhere is coming for your guns. “You can’t have our guns!” is the refrain.
And you know what? I don’t want them. Keep them, lock them away, trade them for magic beans. I don’t care. I already have a gun, two in fact. I bought them in a panic a few years ago after another scene like the one in Las Vegas played out on my television. I bought them out of fear. Fear that some faceless demon with an ambiguous grudge who views the world as his/her own personal version of HALO was coming for me.
I bought them to feel safer. Friends tell me owning a gun is a modern necessity, like life insurance. “You don’t need it until you need it,” I’ve been told.
But I don’t feel any safer. I feel sick knowing they’re in my house. I feel sick imagining having to use them one day. I feel sick knowing I gave into fear, because I was not raised to be a fearful person.
I hate guns and I hate them more every day. In the rich tapestry that is my fantasy world, we’d gather up all the guns in America and melt them down. It would be a big party, like Burning Man. Pelican would serve beer and Tom Petty would play.
Despite the outcry after every shooting, I doubt I’ll see further gun control laws passed in my lifetime. The topic is a non-starter.
But don’t I have the right to live free of fear? Fear of going on my vacation with my wife and coming home alone covered in her brain matter; fear of lying on a cold slab in a morgue because I looked at somebody the wrong way; fear of my friends being mowed down for having the gall to attend a concert. Because isn’t this is how we solve our problems and express out anger now, with the chatter of automatic weapons?
For months I’ve been hearing about how other countries are laughing at us behind our backs because of unfair trade deals. I speak with citizens of other countries every day and I can tell you with near-certainty that they are not laughing at us. They pity us. They pity us because of our inability to stop ourselves from treating our schools, office buildings, and shopping malls like scenes out of “Die Hard.” They pity us because we are supposed to be a beacon to the rest of the world, an example of fairness, equality, and safety.
Instead, we pour our passions into berating athletes who kneel. We alienate and marginalize one another over Twitter and Facebook. And we lurk around small town community centers and spray-paint hateful, racist epithets on public spaces.
My heart breaks that we can’t have open, honest discussions in what is supposed to be an enlightened, modern age. I don’t want to lose friends or family over an argument about whether an AK-47 is what was envisioned by the authors of the Second Amendment.
This is where we are. We are pitied for it. Perhaps rightfully so.
But mostly we are pitied because of the crumpled, bloodied bodies splayed on our streets for the world to see with numbing regularity. These are people who died with unfulfilled promise still inside them: future teachers, scientists, diplomats, parents, grandparents. Was there a future Nobel Prize winner among the victims? A cure for cancer? For Parkinson’s?
They can’t share the wonderful gifts they had yet to realize. Instead, they’re dead on a sidewalk.
“What might have been.” Maybe that’s the only beacon we offer now.