An Open Letter to Rep. Steve Scalise

  1. Dear Congressman,

    As I write this, the news tells me you are still in critical condition following the attack on you and others by a disturbed individual at a morning baseball practice in Virginia. I know little about you, really – I have read your voting record, and I imagine you and I would agree on very little – but I pray for you and the others injured yesterday to have speedy recoveries. I lost my father to gun violence 43 years ago. I've lived with its repercussions my entire life, and do not wish that on anyone. I take it VERY seriously.

    Obviously, we have different life experiences, but I know the way the scars from violence linger, how they never really dissipate. Your relationship to the violence just changes. I felt someone should warn both you and your family about that. Some people manage to harness the pain into something productive … activism, charity, art. Others are destroyed by it. And that pain? Everyone you love will feel it with you. It reverberates throughout families. A single bullet can forever alter a dozen lives. Trust me, I know the repercussions like I do the sound of my own breathing. They have become familiar ghosts, so much so that I don't know who I'd be if I weren't still haunted.

    I'm not trying to frighten you, Congressman. I'm simply laying out the facts that we don't often talk about in our society, but they're not a secret. The families of fallen soldiers know them well, as do the victims of terrorism, and the communities whose members have died at the hand of law enforcement despite having committed no crime, or simply minor infractions.Some will try to parse some of those victims out from the others, depending on their politics. They are mistaken. In the end, the underlying facts are the same: A small, broken man wracked with fear, pain and rage; an ideology or at least a dangerously flawed interpretation of an ideology, and easy access to a weapon which gives the broken man (well, usually a man) an illusion of power. That power's a lie, of course. The world changes a little with each act of violence, but not for the better: We all just become less powerful. That's as true in Virginia as it is in Syria.

    We are just past a year out from the Pulse Nightclub massacre. Five years out from Sandy Hook. Six years from the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The nation is crowded with the ghosts of people who should be here: Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and on and on back into dim history. We see the faces of monsters everywhere: The Tsarnev brothers, Dylan Roof, James Holmes. We are – as a nation – tired, afraid and in pain, and in that we risk becoming the very things we fear. As the painter Francisco Goya wrote, The sleep of reason produces monsters. We are, each of us, a few lines of rhetoric and a bullet away from letting reason slip, each of us in danger of fraying and becoming something hideous, wounded monsters lashing out.

    We are told repeatedly from certain quarters that there is nothing we can do about this, but we know that's not true. There are things we can do to unravel the circumstances that create monsters, and there are things we can do to limit their access to things that will allow them to harm others. It won't be perfect. It'll never be perfect. But please, remember that no bullet hits just one target. Remember, every shot fired creates a tiny piece of darkness in many people's hearts, and that darkness becomes a cancer that reproduces itself, spreading its toxicity, doing more and more harm. This is what I’ve learned with 43 years of living with this darkness: It takes courage to face it and not surrender. It’s exhausting, and it doesn’t end. I pray you have that courage, just as I pray for your recovery. I don’t know you. We'd probably dislike each other immensely. But every survivor of this sort of horror has an opportunity to bring more light into the world, to help dispel the dark. I want you to have that chance. I want you to live. I want all of us to live beyond the shadow of the gun.
Read next page