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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Originally Published in The Huffington Post on August 8, 2016.

It is near the end of July, 2016, and we are gathering for my father’s birthday. It’s been a good day at work, and I look forward to some family time with my brother Brian who is flying to San Francisco from Perth, Western Australia tonight. He comes this time of year as much as he can. It is comforting for us all to be together, enjoying each other and remembering my dad in a happy way, when our family was still whole.

I hum as I walk to my car and turn on my Dixie Chicks CD and pull out of the parking garage.

On the street, the auto dealerships all fly American flags. One after the other, I drive past these flags. All of them are at half mast. Driving by them is like being in a small funeral procession. It has been this way in and out of work for more than a month. This time, it is for the Nice, France terror attacks, 85 dead, 305 wounded.

I am looking forward to the day when the dealerships will raise those flags again. I think about how long it has been since they were flying high. Lately, it has been one tragedy after another. I stop my humming. My jovial mood subsides.

There has been a whole river of tragedy weighing down American hearts these last months in the shape of mass shootings here and abroad.

The headwaters of this river go back a long time though. When you look at the timeline of some of the most publicized mass murders, the river is gaining volume and velocity in the Western world:

  • April 19, 1995: Oklahoma bombing, 168-169 dead, 680+ wounded
  • April 20, 1999: Columbine High School massacre, 15 dead, 24 wounded
  • September 11, 2001: World Trade Center attacks, 2,996 dead, 6,000+ wounded
  • April 16, 2007: Virginia Tech shooting, 33 dead, 23 wounded
  • December 14, 2012: Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, 28 dead
  • November 13-14, 2015: Paris attacks, 137 dead, 368 wounded
  • June 12, 2016, Pulse Orlando nightclub shooting, 50 dead, 53 wounded
  • July 7-8, 2016: Dallas police officer shooting, 6 dead, 11 wounded
  • July 14, 2016: Nice attack, 85 dead, 308 wounded

Some might object to conflating the terror of Muslim extremists with our own home-grown variety, but the reality is, whether it is by our own hand or the acts of others, terror is terror.

Some might object to conflating the terror of Muslim extremists with our own home-grown variety, but the reality is, whether it is by our own hand or the acts of others, terror is terror. 

The enemy is ISIS, of course, or the enemy is Iraq. Sometimes, the enemy is social media bullying or guns, the Russians, Al-Qaeda, the police, the 1%, and our rape culture. The enemy is Republicans, Democrats, the pro-choice lobby, the anti-abortion lobby, Mexicans, blacks, Jews, Muslims, Christians, LGBTQs, whites, CEOs, police, oil companies, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, entitlements, NAFTA and the TPP, protectionism, environmentalism, climate change deniers, Wall Street, liberals, Monsanto, the Koch brothers, global warming, over population, immigration, refugees, human trafficking, GMOs, CNN, Fox News, drug companies, street drugs, cancer, drought, women, men, Canadians, you name it.

There is continual finger pointing at someone or something to explain the state of humanity, and it is not the pointer finger that is doing the pointing.

There is so much out of our control. There is so much information. Bits of it, abstract and untouchable, are pulsing through the airwaves in sound bites and alerts, straight into our living rooms and offices, our cars, our bedrooms and schools. Because of this encroachment on our private space, it is personal. It is served up to us in ways that could never give us the full story or context. We check tiny devices for it while still tucked under down comforters in bed on a dark winter night, or fresh from dreaming before walking out the door for our morning run.

Who gets to decide what information gets seen and what is held back? Who is that person, company, organization? News, heavily influenced by pay for play advertising. Information, so important, largely not actionable, abstract and foreign. What can you do, save a vote at election time, becoming an activist, choosing a career that might make a difference?

All that information served up in a way to tell us how to think, how to behave, what to do, where to spend.

All that information scaring the shit out of us.

Isolating.

Paralyzing.

With all that finger pointing the whole point is missed.

The point is this: the enemy is fear.

It is driving us into shackles.

“Can’t we all just get along?” my very right-wing, conservative, Trump-supporting, evangelist Christian cousin posted online.

Trump.

So, maybe we can’t. But what then?

The point is this: the enemy is fear. It is driving us into shackles.

I drive to the airport. I wait for my brother and watch all the people arriving in San Francisco. People watching is fascinating, especially in San Francisco, don’t you think? It is colorful and vibrant.

Thirty years ago, I would not have had to sit behind the security exit and could have met him directly at his gate. Thirty years ago, I could have waited for him at the curb and not have had to drive in a continuous loop, never stopping, because security is afraid of car bombs. Thirty years ago, most of the people at the airport would have looked a lot like me, and dressed a lot like me, too. Our customs and acts of courtesy would have been of the same brand.

Today, I sit behind the wall, watching passengers exit through a small door. They are diverse in their appearance and costume, but similar too, because they are weary and beleaguered. You can tell mostly by their eyes that this is so. They have that same look as I believe I do.

All these people, trying as hard as they can to do the right thing, holding down a job, keeping up with the pace of modern society, holding it together for the sake of everyone else and the good of all. Not dwelling on what is. Not looking it in the eye. Not staring it down good. Instead somehow, people are still fighting the good fight, are trying to give reality a facelift.

It is not that these incoming passengers don’t look presentable or lack smiles. Some of them look quite glamorous. Some of them are vibrant and they bear wide smiles as they burst through the security wall and find their greeters.

This vibrancy is skin deep though. They are trying too hard somehow. Working to accumulate the trappings of a stylized lifestyle from magazines and TV shows. Because if you look happy, doesn’t that make it so?

I wonder how they can be as happy as they appear when just last week Nice underwent such a horrific attack. How can they appear so secure when the auto row flags will be hoisted down once again, when in only two more days, July 22, 2016, the Munich shootings will happen?

10 dead this time, 35 wounded.

Their eyes and the tension in their tendons, especially through the neck and the strain in their smile betray them. I see it.

Yes, despite the diversity in front of me, I recognize myself in them. They are my mirror. We are the same.

All but one.

It is a small child. She is running ahead of her parents in shoes that make noise. They squeak and flash tiny lights with each step. Her pigtails are flying. Her parents struggle to keep up, encumbered with their heavy bags and a brother, asleep in the stroller. They call her to stop. Her cheeks are rosy and fat and she is laughing, excited to be free. As she cuts through the crowd, not stopping for anything, there is a wave of smiles, turning the dreary passengers bright again for only a moment. She is unafraid. As her parents chase her through the airport, she is a current of joy in this dismal river.

“Can’t we all just get along?”… So, maybe we can’t. But what then?

My brother comes at last. He is lean and healthy, and has travelled from a point as far on the earth from me as possible, as far from the rest of the western world as possible, with opposite seasons, and opposite stars, floating in the same firmament. He is here now like magic. He puts down his bag. The point is this. I am glad that he is home. Glad for his warm breath brushing the hair above my ear. Glad for an antidote, solid in the weight of arms that encircle me.

Follow Susan von Konsky on Twitter @susanvk_1


Photo credit: Susan von Konsky
This entry was posted in: Uncategorized

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Susan von Konsky is a native Californian and a corporate marketing consultant. She has a political science degree from Wellesley College and an MFA in English from Mills College. "Can't We All Just Get Along?" is a book in progress about how many of society's greatest challenges are deeply personal.

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