I was supposed to participate in, or at least listen to, a conference call with fellow Maine state representatives and the speaker of the House Monday night at 8. Instead, I was in bed, asleep, escaping from the cold, dark night, unable to cope any more that day with the sadness that has enveloped me.
The brutally short, dreary days, the grief that has overcome the nation in the wake of the slayings of tiny children and their teachers in Newtown, Conn., the flashbacks to my imagined images of my daughter’s own violent death last year, all had combined to paralyze me in mourning and a feeling of helplessness.
Finally, I arose Tuesday, after 11 hours of sleep, not refreshed, but no longer feeling powerless. The newspaper was filled again with stories that break my heart, like that of a grandfather whose house is near the school, who sheltered some children who somehow had run out of their classroom, past the body of their teacher, to safety.
And then I listened on my computer to the president’s speech to the people of Newtown. Not really a speech, but a prayer and a promise. As always, he was movingly eloquent, powerfully evoking the love a parent feels for one’s child, a devotion unmatched in life.
Having a child, he said, is like living with your heart outside your body, in the vulnerability you instantly feel when that child is born. You want always to protect her, but you cannot, and you know that you must allow the child to grow independent and brave. That is what my husband and I did, and we had the great misfortune and terrible luck to have that courage be Becky’s undoing.
If anything good is to happen as a result of Newtown and my response to it, it is to stand up and speak against the tyranny of the gun-worshipping culture of powerful parts of our society, and the fear and tolerance that the rest of our country accords it.
I wrote an email to the House majority leader and speaker to this effect. The problem, I wrote, is not so much the loopholes in gun-control laws, though Maine certainly has its share. Rather, the fault lies in viewing a mother with an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction as a “gun enthusiast,” and to see nothing inconsistent about this and her description as a good neighbor and citizen.
I believe that no one in her right mind should acquire and play (on shooting ranges or otherwise) with such tools. It is a sickness to revere these instruments, or at least self-delusional to think they provide self-protection, if that is why this mother bought them. They are far more likely to be used in suicide, accidental shootings (especially by children) or other tragedies. They are not machines of beauty. They are not manly or sexy. No home should contain them. We must teach our children this, and change the thinking of our adults.
I realize that by saying this publicly, I could be the target of gun lovers and their powerful lobby groups. But having lost Becky, I am fearless. I have already lost what is most dear to me. I live now to make her proud, and to protect other children.
So I will test my courage to see if it is bluster or the real thing. And to see if my words can make any difference, convince anyone to turn in their arsenals and hand guns, to help dissipate the paranoia that runs through our culture, even in lovely and loving towns like Newtown, Conn., or Yarmouth, Maine.
Democrat Janice Cooper of Yarmouth is the first-term state representative from House District 107. Her 23-year-old daughter Becky Schaffer died in a hiking accident in Micronesia in August 2011.