- April 18, 2012
About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters; how well, they understood Its human position; how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along. — From “Musee des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden
My Sunday mornings consist of the most sacred of moments, of coffee and the New York Times. To leisurely read the Sunday Times is arguably the most consistently sublime three or four hours of my entire week. And so it was on Sunday, June 12. Until I accessed my computer and learned that first 20, then 50 people had been gunned down less than an hour from my home.
I lunched with my brother the day after and we agreed it could have been us killed. In our brief lifetimes we’ve been in “distinctly” gay bars, drinking and dancing and celebrating life with similarly-minded — lets all kick back and enjoy life — folks. That 49 were murdered because of who they are or who their friends were is antithetical to my ideal for America. American Exceptionalism is, in part, the freedom to be who you are and to pursue whatever dreams you may imagine. Such an attack undermines this modern cultural premise (and promise) through terror and fear and eventually, through national self-doubt.
My “heart” goes out to all the parents. There is no larger sorrow in life.
I am profoundly sorry that this deranged individual (Omar Mateen) selected Orlando to demonstrate his crazed hatred of life. Liberals will focus on the issue of why assault weapons are so easily secured while Conservatives will identify Islamic terrorism as the “real” problem. In a free society such as ours, identifying and detaining all potentially violent offenders is unrealistic. This will sadly happen again. And again and . . .
And someday — inevitably — Orlando will be supplanted as America’s Gun Death Capital, No. 1 in Gun Massacres. That distinction will inevitably fall to Austin or Minneapolis or Des Moines or (fill in the blank). Gun control? Eh, who needs it.
For this moment vigils are held; necessary for healing to begin. People who may in their entire lives never have been lionized will be. That is the nature of such tragedies. Good, decent folk are memorialized for what? For having needlessly died. That is what we do when confronted by the inexplicable randomness of life. It could have been any gay nightclub in Florida or, as events in America repeatedly demonstrate, any movie theater, public school or university.
In 1938, the poet W.H. Auden was in the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels and viewed a 1590 painting by Pieter Brueghel titled, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” Auden wrote the poem “Musee des Beaux Arts” in response to his interpretation of Brueghel’s painting.
The painting depicts a pastoral landscape with a large expanse of sea in the background. Peasants tend their fields. Ships are on their way — and all are oblivious to the unfolding Greek tragedy around them — of Icarus falling to his death, drowning because he flew too close to the sun.
Auden understood the tragedy associated with human existence. Suffering surrounds us all. Brueghel’s painting and Auden’s poem depict our practiced indifference to it. We continue to live, the sun shows up, the dog barks, the Times are read. Just hum along, "Obla di, obla da, life goes on."
Not to at all minimize current events but inevitably we pick up the “pieces” and move on. That’s what humans have always done. Do read the times.