Monthly Archives: January 2014

When Everyone Is Really No One

In case you missed it the first time when it appeared at Hothouse, check out my most recent article:

gun_by Gideon_Tsang Photo by Gideon Tsang

A 20-year-old woman and a 44-year-old woman were shot earlier this week at a grocery store in Elkhart, Indiana. Krystal Dikes, 20, was working. Rachelle Godfread, 44, was shopping. The man who shot them, Shawn Bair, 22, had been convicted of stealing from the store four years earlier, to the day, before shooting the two women. When they arrived, police saw Bair taunting the store manager, who appeared to be kneeling in front of him. The police presence caught Bair’s attention, giving the manager enough time to make an escape. They shot Bair dead as the manager scrambled to safety.

I shop at Martin’s often. Not in Elkhart. The supermarkets are a locally-owned chain in northern Indiana with stores also in South Bend, where I live. Elkhart is a neighbor. Godfread, Dikes, and Bair—all neighbors. Not in the strictest sense, of course. They didn’t literally live next door to each other or me. But over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that anyone we come in contact with is a neighbor. One police officer told reporters that this is the world we live in now. Our neighbors might decide to shoot us one day. It’s not hard to imagine being Krystal or Rachelle or the supermarket manager. Maybe, for some, it’s not all that hard to imagine being the shooter.

The shooting happened around 10 p.m., and I didn’t hear about it until the next morning when I logged onto Facebook, often a first point of contact for news. One, perhaps unintentionally, flippant comment I saw was, “Although the circumstances are terrible, i think it’s kinda cool that Elkhart was the top story on the today show.” Someone else commented that sometimes we need to keep such thoughts to ourselves. Even more, I wonder how we’ve come to believe that it’s a thrill to see our neighbors on the national news.

So much of the life we live encompasses how to make meaning. What is the meaning of this shooting, or all the others that plague our culture, from movie theaters to elementary schools, from highways to supermarkets? Rage eats through us like charcoal that smolders at a low burn until it’s whipped up by a wind and erupts in flame to incinerate all it touches. How do we make meaning of this seemingly collective and contagious rage apart from saying that we made the top story on the Today Show?

Recently, I read a quote by fiction writer N. Scott Momaday who said, “Reinventing the sacred in our increasingly fragmented technological society is the central issue facing us today.” It’s nostalgic and sentimental to say that those who’ve gone before us recognized the sacred in ways that we no longer do. We all, generation to generation, have our blind spots and lose sight of the sacred—slave owners when they discarded the innate humanity of black men and women; would-be millionaires in their blind optimism toward the Industrial Revolution; the lost generation of World War I in their hopelessness; the ungrateful who shouted their hatred toward Vietnam veterans; flying airplanes into skyscrapers. Still, there seems to be a unique loss of the sacred in our immediate context, within our rage.

But what is sacred? What do we do with the sacred, once and if we finally discover or reinvent it? Maybe that’s an even more central question. I’m fascinated by the new HBO series True Detective, in which audiences watch two detectives work to solve the ritualistic murder of a prostitute. More interesting, though, is the interaction between the two detectives played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. In an attempt to better get to know his partner, Harrelson’s character begins poking into the other’s understanding of God. We learn that McConaughey’s character is an atheist but more than that he’s lost all sense of the sacred:

“I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution,” he says. “We became too self aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law…We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory, experience, and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody.”

And maybe this is the crux: that we’ve come to believe that everybody is nobody, that there is nothing sacred. Maybe this accounts for our obsession with celebrity (a la “American Idol”) or our feeling that it’s pretty cool to end up on the Today Show, for good or ill. When we insist that everybody is nobody or that we suspect that we ourselves are nobody, we strive with all we are to somehow make our mark no matter how, even if it further profanes the sacred and ends up on the Today Show.

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