It seems like after every national tragedy–and let’s be honest, tragedy on any scale–people have this “ah-ha” realization about the fragility of life.
I think that’s a pretty natural reaction. A wake-up of sorts.
And that “ah-ha,” that realization, often gets filtered into a phrase that comes out something like this: “we’re not promised tomorrow.” It’s a carpe diem phrase of sorts. A call to mindfulness. A call to smell the roses. A call to, as Qoheleth and Dave Matthews chirp, “Eat, drink, and be merry” for tomorrow we die.
Or, at least, we might die.
On the one hand, I get that sentiment. In a cosmic sense it is absolutely true, and shouldn’t be ignored.
But the tragedy in Orlando was not some cosmically caused killing. A meteor didn’t fall from the sky and destroy Pulse. It wasn’t some freak shark attack.
If it had been a meteor or a freak accident, then I could get behind the phrase “we’re not promised tomorrow” as a response to this terrorist attack.
But this was a terrorist with a gun living under the laws and regulations of the United States of America. We can’t just shrug our shoulders, hold our babies closer, and hope it doesn’t happen to us. That’s ridiculous. On some level, uttering that phrase in response to this particular act is just plain stupid sentimentalism; a vapid romanticism.
At its core, the laws and regulations that we live under are a social contract of sorts, a promise if you will, that your tomorrow cannot be purposefully infringed upon by my actions in a way that inhibits your “life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.”
I’m saying that those people at Pulse were promised a tomorrow. At least in the sense that no one could infringe upon their tomorrow in a forceful way by law. We had a social contract that someone decided to break, and here we are shrugging our shoulders and saying, “No guarantees.” Sure…no guarantees. But we do have promises which, while not guarantees, are the social contract version that is pretty darn close.
And when we say something like, “We’re not promised a tomorrow” as a response to a situation that is a breach of social contract we abstract the incident to arms length, when what we actually need to do is draw the incident as close as possible.
Because things at arms length…we have little control over that. It’s a psychological crutch. But this type of mass shooting is actually something that we, through our social contracts, can take action on.
When Moses went up to Sinai and descended with those two tablets (three, if you believe Mel Brooks’ account), it was to establish a social contract both between humanity and between Divinity and humanity. It is basically a response to, “how shall we then live?” And it was, in essence, a promise of tomorrow for those people. This is how we order ourselves, by promising one another a tomorrow because God has intended tomorrows for humanity.
And for the Christian, the promise of tomorrow goes even past death. So Christians must take quite seriously this part of our social contract.
And we cannot, of course, ever guarantee something like this shooting won’t happen. Our laws are no preventative guarantee; they are a promissory note, though. A promissory note that we all sign onto.
And, look, the promise was broken. Let’s not pretend it was an act of God. Let’s not pretend this was written in the stars or some similar platitude that will help us swallow this pill.
Do not swallow this tragedy. Choke on it. Choke on it and let action to save lives be our response. If you throw it out at arms length we’ll just do this all again.
Let’s not pretend we have no way of figuring this out. We know how this happened; we know how it happens.
Let our “ah-ha” moment not be a realization about the fragility of life, but a renewed commitment to tomorrow and to keeping promises and to doing the things that help us all to keep our promises.
Because, actually, we are promised tomorrow. Not guaranteed…but at least promised.
And if you say otherwise, you are delusional or lying or just unwilling to face the reality that we are not powerless here, we’re just choosing to be powerless here…
Thank you for articulating this. I hate that we all have the collective “mourning” phase after these shootings, then go back to the status quo.