I had to have my dog put down before Christmas last year. There is no art in that, nothing but bathos. Orwell may have made something out of shooting an imaginary elephant, but there is no poetry or great message in the death of my cute little dog. I stayed with him as the vet went about her work, because loyalty, a dog of a virtue which excuses cover ups and mass murders, is amongst those I admire most, and having made the decision that he was to die, it is not in me to simply walk away and leave the dog alone to the process. (In the waiting room, while I held him up so he wouldn’t engage in battle with animals ten times his size, fool that he was, he pissed blood down my shirt, his incontinence and internal bleeding a reassurance that I was doing the right thing.) He wagged his tail standing on the stainless steel table, happy at the attention, trusting me, and blubbering though I was, I hope I did not betray that trust. Afterwards, I reflected on my sentimentality regarding animals, and how useless I would be on a farm, unless I had some reconditioning, and my brain went into ridiculous analytical overdrive: did I do the right thing? how dare you feel like that about an animal? how dare you do what you did? do I feel enough? do I feel too little? And I was left with the knowledge, I don’t want to go through that again any time soon.
Then a day or so later I awoke to the news of the murder of 20 little children and others in yet another school massacre in the US, and everything was put in horrifying perspective. I am a broken person, filled with my own darkness, but empathy failed me when it came to contemplating the killer. I can think about the pain a person may have, the anger, and draw a path that may lead to bad deeds, but I cannot colour this particular picture in, cannot give it substance. To do this thing. That this choice could be made, and the tools were readily available to act on that choice. I did not dare put myself in the position of any of the parents who lost a child. For most adults who have had their fair battering from life, that is too easy an imaginative leap to make.
There is no causality between these events, they are just the order in which I experienced them. My family had its small sadness, from which we quickly recovered. News came from a distant country of great tragedy which has permanently marked lives, from which parents and others will never, ever recover. There is no connection between the events, they are an infinite degree of both kind and magnitude apart. We lurch from day to day, getting by as best we can, hoping for small joys, experiencing our small sorrows, and hear news from afar of great horror. We hope that if nothing else, some small meaning can be taken from disaster if it leads to us changing our ways. This happened in Australia after the Port Arthur massacre, but gun ownership is less entrenched in our culture. It seemed then that this tragedy would lead to no great change in the US, and subsequent murders and political reactions have confirmed it.
Gun fetishism is very alien to me. It is difficult as an outsider to comprehend the depth of feeling moves towards gun control, or for that matter, improving the health care system, generate in the US. The introduction of Medicare in Australia did not lead to the collapse of capitalism. Measures taken after the Port Arthur massacre did not lead to the establishment of a Stalinist state. Our planet continued to turn, despite the many failings of our country. The whole world looks at the cult of personality in North Korea, sees images of military processions and choreographed movements of masses of people, and shakes its head at the weirdness. Many people outside the US have a similar reaction to the American love of guns, it is as bewilderingly strange to us as the behaviour of North Koreans.
Earthquakes raze cities, tsunamis and cyclones devastate coastlines in distant places. We carry on, we endure, keeping our heads down, sad but not wishing to think about it too much, not wanting to think about when it will be our turn. We live our little lives, suffer our small sorrows. There are other forces that individuals are powerless to conquer, powers in the lives of humans that cannot be overcome in a single generation. We must do our little bit, with no promise and little prospect of seeing change ourselves, but always hoping for the future.