I have been reflecting on the convergence of grief and bravery a lot lately.
About how death can meet us in 6 minutes and 20 seconds. The power which the silence of a small (almost) woman can have in conveying grief, honouring friends and challenging the political status quo. I cried for the length of her speech and well beyond.
At nearly the same time that the MarchForOurLives protests were taking place around the world I was in Inistioge, County Kilkenny, Ireland – quite honestly a place I never expected to be.
To understand where I am going ‘with this’ I need to take you, dear reader, back to 1978 and the publication of my favourite book of all time – The Far Pavilions. It is a brilliantly researched and written piece of historical (romantic) fiction that if read by warmongers in any number of countries Afghanistan might have been left alone following the First Anglo-Afghani War disaster (with an additional 12,000 civilian casualties) in the Hindu Kush in 1842. But The British didn’t learn their lesson, egos got in the way and as part of The Great Game, they tried again, and again, and then America took up where they left off in an attempt to keep Russia ‘contained’. As the story unfolds the Russians have opted for cyber-warfare to claim global supremacy throwing technology at the United Kingdom and the United States (and other countries like Ukraine, France and Germany) where canons and missiles used to be deployed.
Each time I have read The Far Pavilions I have wept at the heroic passing of a most beloved character in defending the British Mission in Kabul (1879), a character who I always assumed was fictional, and at the waste and stupidity of ‘governments’. On 24 March on the banks of the River Nore, near Inistioge and his actual birthplace his great (many times over) grandniece Ann Hamilton seemingly randomly mentioned The Far Pavilions, and then she told me that Lt. Walter Hamilton, VC actually lived, was loved, and was her relative. I am grateful beyond measure for the extraordinary gift Ann has given me by bringing “Wally Hamilton” from MM Kaye’s pages to life for me through her family tree. But by making her uncle ‘real’ I was also swamped with unexpected grief for the man – or a combination of grief – that has left me openly weeping three times in two days. So we are clear it’s not ‘just’ his death one-hundred-and-thirty-nine years ago evoking my tears.
Like so many others, and because I read history, I am frayed and raw by the betrayals of both contemporary and historically broken politicians, diplomats and warmongers whose greed and egos deliver words and the subsequent actions which destroy. The invasions of foreign lands to pillage (or civilize ‘the heathens’) as we are about to witness in Iran over oil and expanding Afghanistan for their rare earth minerals. It is colonialism, entitlement, imperialism and, of course, exploitation using military means. It angers me enormously for the loss of lives of the people of the regions and the loss of their resources which would benefit their populations as well as when an American dies to fulfill ‘orders given’ just as Walter Hamilton died.
Returning to the #NeverAgain movement, the deaths of the 17 Parkland, Florida (and the 7,000 others in mass shootings in the United States since Sandy Hook) all less than their majority came not because of a choice to enlist in the military and defend a diplomatic mission in Kabul but by the negligence of those elected to the United States Senate and Congress wearing the Republican Party lapel pin. The National Rifle Association (NRA), assuaging the greed that often accompanies career politicians, the has poured tens of millions of dollars into obscene distortions to the Second Amendment without conscience substituting the musket ball, pan-fired rifles of the 18th century into contemporary military grade weapons. So I took particular pleasure in today’s news that Remington Guns has filed for bankruptcy. The NRA’s agenda is profit and nothing will stand in the way of ensuring that every ill-prepared, irresponsible, mentally unstable (mostly angry white men) individual has their right to bear arms maintained no matter the cost to a civil society. That mainstream media and American politicians refuse to name these as the domestic terrorists they are because somehow white privilege precludes doing so.
Since the slaughter at Parkland another 73 teenagers have been shot and only four states have changed their laws making it harder to obtain a firearm; which brings me to the bravery referenced in my title.
“You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.”
~ Mary Tyler Moore
I think there is a duality of appropriateness around this quote which we are witnessing. First, of course, is the loss which the Marjory Stoneham Douglas students and their families have endured and second, the inspiring life of the woman for which their school is named Marjory Stoneham Douglas (MSD) (from being a Suffragette and civil rights crusader to squarely beating the agricultural and business interests looking to destroy the Florida Everglades as an octogenarian). Her legacy of fostering change seems in very capable hands.
The MSD students are channeling their grief in taking on the corruption of American politics, the gun lobby and the wing-nuts clinging to the Second Amendment and in doing so they are seemingly fearless in facing the enormous opposition and accompanying death threats and limitless financial resources. In spite of these obstacles, in the space of five weeks, ‘these kids’ managed to rally hundreds of thousands (est. 800K) to Washington, DC. with protests staged in major cities and small towns everywhere beyond the Beltway.
They have already faced the greatest possible fear that anyone could – dying as bullets rip through their young bodies, and watching their friends die. Walter Hamilton faced that same death by choice, the NRA and American politicians stripped nearly 7100 teenagers of any choice since 14 December 2012. #NeverAgain, #EnoughIsEnough.
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