Regarding Guns, Part 2

There are some who, understandably, wish that in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy more people had taken “at least a day” before launching in on any of a variety of agendas. I apologize if what I wrote seemed insensitive or too political, and I acknowledge the sentiments of those who wanted just a little reprieve.

I suppose it’s fair to say I never considered what I said to be pushing an agenda. It was predominately an anti-gun message, but I have never considered myself to be anti-gun; that is to say, I have never paid much thought to the issue at all, and as a registered libertarian it’s uncommon for me to desire government regulation in general.

As such, I did want to clarify a few questions that have come up, and raise a couple thoughts which didn’t quite fit into my remarks yesterday but are still relevant.

First, under no uncertain terms do I place blame for yesterday’s tragedy on gun companies or gun legislation. The only one truly responsible is the shooter.

The question, the uncertainty, comes in when we ask what allows a rational, together human being to commit an atrocity of this magnitude, and the answer is found in the way that question is loaded: nothing. No rational, together person could do such a thing. And that points us to the fact that perpetrators of such violence aren’t rational. They are mentally unstable individuals who either don’t understand that what they are doing is wrong, or understand but lack the ability to care. Sociopaths don’t care about pain because they don’t feel it in the same way your or I do. A crucial portion of the cost/benefit analysis simply isn’t there.

I do not know this particular shooter’s mental or behavioral history. But I find it incredibly unlikely that he was a well-adjusted, friendly member of society. There were almost definitely warning signs — not of specific intent, mind you, but that he wasn’t “normal” — which, had they been caught and identified, might have been treated or watched with enough care as to ensure he never had opportunity to do what he did.

I don’t want to play Monday morning quarterback here. As these signs (nigh) inevitably are remembered, we must recognize as always that hindsight affords a perspective with which few are gifted prior to such tragedy. That doesn’t tell me that incidents like yesterday’s are unpreventable; it tells me that we, as a society, need to be more diligent in understanding mental illness, identifying it, and treating it. The signs are there, but we don’t recognize them; these people are speaking to us, but we don’t know their language.

This is important, because we like to talk about personal responsibility but we don’t always think it through. A baby is responsible for crying insomuch as no one else is crying for her; but she does not understand annoyance, sleep-deprivation, or any of the other things she inflicts on those around her through her crying and as such is not “responsible” in the way we tend to use the word.

In the case of a true sociopath, we must consider what it is like to be emotionally immune, to know right and wrong, love and hate merely as textbook terms rather than tangible realities. They are responsible for their actions only in the most literal of ways (in that no one else acted for them), but no further. If a sociopath feels no conscience, he does not act according to one, and we can’t expect him to understand the reality of what he has done.

I focused yesterday’s post on guns because I still believe what I emboldened: the event would not have been possible if we had stricter gun laws. I want to clarify that statement because some of you have misunderstood it. This is what I did not say:

Shootings are impossible if we ban guns. I did not say that, because it isn’t true. There will always be guns, and people who really want them will find ways of getting them. We can never truly disarm the entire population of this country (let alone the world). The most we could hope for is to truly disarm all law-abiding citizens, which would ensure a nation in which any armed criminal had full confidence of successful violence. Which brings me to the next thing I did not say:

We should ban guns. I did not say that. I said “stricter” gun laws. Over the course of the post I made a case for the need for some rifles. I also noted that self defense as a justification for private ownership is nuanced and requires a great deal more research on efficacy before it can either be ruled in or out as viable. This doesn’t merely apply to the misuse of privately owned weapons to commit crimes; it must also entail the number of accidents involving privately-owned guns harming either their owner or a loved one of that owner.

As I explained to several friends afterwards, I am not against the concept of private gun ownership in principle. I have personally considered getting a handgun in the future. On the other hand, I have also considered getting a cat in the future. And between the two, if the government outlawed both I’d be far more upset about the latter.

What I meant to imply in my statement, but did not explicitly say, was that the speed and efficacy of yesterday’s crime was enabled primarily by the gunman’s legal access to an assault weapon, an item for which (as I believe I established) there is no valid reason for a citizen to possess. If, as I believe to be the case, the number and volume of gun-related tragedies could be lessened significantly by the removal of those weapons from the public’s hands, that good outweighs the negative of the government dictating what property its constituents are allowed to enjoy safely in their own home.

There are of course limits, and it’s a slippery slope. My position allows for gun ownership to a point, but argues that the current point is too inclusive. I don’t know or propose to know what the safest gun ownership arrangement would be; I merely know that this is not it, because there are plenty of places with stricter regulations that have far lower gun-related death tolls than we do despite much larger populations. On the other hand, as with the country’s experiment with prohibition, outright banning potentially harmful luxuries that a decent segment of the population doesn’t want banned will almost definitely result in a burgeoning criminal underground.

That comes with a caveat: guns are not alcohol or drugs. Guns are not grown in one’s back yard or created in a bathtub in one’s basement. They are expensive and difficult to build privately and effectively. While particularly tenacious or well-off criminals will find their way to black market arms, average would-be killers likely would not. Granted, there are plenty of other ways to kill people (heck, building a pipe bomb is cheap and incredibly easy to do), but those are straw men because unlike guns, they can’t be regulated or controlled. Also unlike guns, they aren’t the things currently being used.

There’s one last gun-related point I want to mention, and that is the rather prevalent argument I’ve seen which goes in the exact opposite direction of mine and says that we need more guns, rather than fewer, to avert these tragedies. The most common line states that teachers and school officials should all have weapons, and that this would disincentivize violence in schools.

Now the very first issue I have with that is that it’s narrow-minded to this particular case. School shootings are not the only shootings. Less than a week ago one took place at a mall. Aurora’s case was a movie theatre. So if we’re aiming to arm potential victims, it’s worth noting that the scope of that is phenomenally larger than a handful of school teachers or principals. While the killing of kids strikes us as particularly heinous, I don’t really consider children any more or less innocent than the victims of the other (noticeably less-talked-about) tragedies over the past months and years.

Yet to the point of schools in particular, I’m not exactly sure much thought has gone into the realities of the proposal. First and foremost, we are talking about placing weapons in the hands of a tremendous number of primarily over-worked and underpaid individuals. We are also talking about putting a lot of guns in public places. If they are too inaccessible, they won’t be useful, and if they are too accessible, they won’t be safe. Moreover, potential shooters would no longer need to secure their own weapons, because they would be able to acquire them within the very classrooms they planned to target, even if they had to strong-arm a teacher into relinquishing that weapon.

Again, imagining that none of my other reservations were valid, there is the matter of pure and simple economics. The hardware, licensing, training, and maintenance of these weapons would put an enormous strain on the budgets of districts which are, for the most part, already straining to support adequate curricular and extracurricular activities for their students. I’d hate to be the parent at the local town hall meeting asked to relinquish my child’s band program to put a pistol in his English teacher’s hands. And if the money isn’t coming from local sources, then where exactly will it? State sources? Federal? I suppose you never can have enough taxes.

The crucial thing I hope you take away from this all is that guns are not to blame for these crimes, but guns play a part. Save a scenario of mutually assured destruction, wherein guns are so common that the likelihood of overpowering people without immediately being overpowered yourself is so low that you have no incentive to try, it seems reasonable to believe that the fewer guns, the safer the majority of people will be. Meanwhile, the real problem, the one that won’t go away even if all guns go away tomorrow, is the fact that there are people, perhaps even people you know, who can shoot twenty children and their teachers.

Sure, there’s the “…and not feel remorse part.” But it’s really just the fact that they could do it at all that should strike us. The fact that they could plan to do it, that they could even consider doing it, and then actually go ahead and, amidst the screams, proceed with annihilating an entire class of children.

These people are monsters not because they do these things, but because they lack the inhibition to keep them from doing so. And to the extent that we do not identify and prevent them from realizing that potential, we fail as a society. At best, these people can be helped. At worst, they can be restrained. But where we are right now, we’re worse than worst, because we’re neither helping nor restraining, and we’re letting the potential for disaster roam unfettered and unchecked through our lives.

Our focus, meanwhile, should be anywhere but sociopaths. We should stop suggesting in our conversations, in our blogs, in our tweets, in our media, that there is anything special or interesting about this killer. There are others like yesterday’s shooter: unhinged, disconnected, bombs with invisible fuses. Any one of them could have done what he did, and any one of them could be encouraged to act because of what he did. We do ourselves a great disservice by glorifying him and his actions, because in doing so we legitimize them as a path to fame and recognition. I don’t actually know the shooter’s name, and I’m intentionally ignoring it, because I don’t want to remember it, or him. I’ve seen this sentiment expressed by some friends, and I don’t think it can be overemphasized.

Instead, I want to remember the town. I want to remember the kids.

I want to remember the families that most likely have dozens of presents hiding somewhere in their houses which were purchased with anticipation of huge smiles that will never be seen again.

I want to think about the loved ones I have who I could lose just as easily, as suddenly, as irrevocably, and cherish them a bit more this season than I might have otherwise.

And moving forward, I want to think about actually changing things for the better, and evaluating which right — to life, or to property — is actually God-given and inalienable. Where the two coexist, great. Where they clash, life wins every time.

Or at least it should.

Make it so.

Regarding Guns

Well, it looks like it’s going to be a discussion whether we want it or not. And to be clear, I do not. But if talking’s happening, I’ll be a part of it.

Today’s tragedy would not have been possible if we had stricter gun laws. If you disbelieve that statement, you’re failing to function on a rational level. Yes, other tragedies have occurred with other weapons. But this one in particular, and its ilk, are made possible directly because of the guns we have available to us.

Apparently there was an incident in China yesterday that also grievously involved children. None of the headlines I’ve seen flash along my Twitter feed have suggested that anyone died from that. Injured, shocked, yes. But not dead. Their futures were not permanently cut off. And even had there been deaths, they would not have been nearly as numerous. Guns are none of the other things which are misused to tragically end life. Guns are guns, and guns are designed with a single purpose: to end life.

Is ending life an inherently immoral thing? No, at least not from a Judeo-Christian standpoint. If you disagree, read Genesis 9, in which God institutes both consumption of meat and capital punishment. And to the former end, we need effective means of hunting, less today for subsistence than for population control (though I applaud those who do hunt for food as a means of simpler living). There are very few guns, however, which are recognized as either ethical or effective for hunting. Fur or feast, good hunts rely on efficiency to preserve the animal for consumption.

A great many guns, then, are legally available but serve no practical purpose beyond shooting other people. I say practical here because I recognize that shooting ranges and competitions have always enjoyed a great deal of popularity among subsets of the population. I do not think an honest cost/benefit evaluation, however, would justify the reality of school and shopping center shooting galleries on the basis of fringe entertainment.

Of course, when you get past the “I need guns” argument, the next one is “I have a right to, and the founders of our country agree,” and since I tend to agree a great deal with the founders of our country and don’t want to undermine their legitimacy or foresight, allow me to suggest this: you’ve already lost the right they were trying to secure with the Second Amendment.

The actual text of the Second Amendment says more than “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That’s the “then” of an if/then statement, and is predicated on the assumption that “a well regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free state.” These words were written by people who had just fought off a strong, centralized government, and were putting together a union of sovereign states.

Perhaps you read that differently from how I do, but it sounds a lot to me like, “in order for the states of this union to ensure they will never be subjugated by the federal government we are instituting, they must be capable of having their own military to fight against that federal military, should it ever come to such extremes. Rather than a standing army, this would simply be a collective of citizens of the state who would, if needed, defend us — using their own guns.” They recognized the value of militia in overturning an oppressive regime, and wanted to make sure that going forward, that militia capacity never went away.

Nevermind the myriad ways in which state sovereignty has been trampled on in almost every way imaginable over the past two and a half centuries; the intent of these words is clear: we need guns because the government will have guns, and without guns the common man is defenseless against the government.

Well, newsflash. The government has access to a lot of things we don’t. Not just guns (though plenty of those), but bombs and intel and drones. A conflict between Washington, DC and any individual state in the United States of America would be hilariously asymmetrical. Even armed with the most powerful weapons legally available to citizens today (that is, even if gun control got no stricter), there is no way a state could form a militia that came close to having the capacity to win in that struggle. In a worst-case scenario, entire cities or swathes of a state could quite literally be disintegrated at the push of a button.

And so, if the reason for having guns was so that John Doe could defend his hometown from government attack, and he has no ability to do so, whence the reason for having guns?

Self defense against fellow citizens, I suppose. That’s what people will say. And you know, considering the criminals don’t care what the law says (hint: that’s why they’re called criminals), only the law-abiding citizens can be hurt by gun control, because they’ll be gunless while the criminals use the guns they’re not allowed to have to do things they’re not allowed to do.

I’ve used that argument before. It kinda sounds valid. But you know what it doesn’t sound like? An argument predicated on the founders’ beliefs and the Second Amendment.

So if you want to say you need a gun because someone might break into your house with a gun, or rob your store with a gun, or whatever, okay. I’ll let the researchers squabble over how often self-defense gun ownership results in its intended consequences (as opposed to, say, young Bobby finding the shoebox in the closet and making terrible mistakes).

But don’t conflate that argument with the inalienable right argument, because first they aren’t related and second, the inalienable right argument is already (as I just suggested) moot.

It’s stupid, really stupid, that we blame tragedies like today’s on guns rather than focusing on the monsters who perpetrate the actual acts, the people who would willingly hurt defenseless children and underpaid educators (and holiday shopping families and minimum-wage-earning store employees). The culpability focus is definitely skewed whenever some potentially political hot button news item arises.

But if you’re going to have a knee-jerk reaction, at least try to put a little thought into it before smearing the Internet with a record of your political leanings. Even if it’s ultimately the fault of the shooter rather than the gun company, what I said in the beginning is still true: today’s tragedy would not have been possible if we had stricter gun laws.

So love your guns, your shooting galleries, your hunting trophies, and your self-defense monologue. But if your kids were coming home in a body bag today, would you still be so self-righteous?

I hope to God the answer to that is no.

EDIT: Addendum. It’s worth noting that a lot of people don’t want anyone to get political over this, not right now. I agree with that sentiment, and that’s why I addressed it in my opening sentence: like it or not, it already is political, and our options are to ignore it or to take advantage of the opportunity for discussion and strike while the iron is hot. I’m not one to suggest overturning centuries’ worth of precedent while caught up in an emotional frenzy, but I think capitalizing on the sting of tragedy is the best way to remind us of what tragedy actually feels like, what sorts of emotions and thoughts we’re trying to prevent from reoccurring. We callous quickly, and then the issue becomes fringe and unimportant all over again. The only time the majority of the nation thinks about guns is when something like this happens; and since that’s true, we must engage the topic now, like it or not. Be sensitive, but don’t be quixotic. In all things, charity. End Addendum.

Abortion: Defusing the Bomb

Warning: if you are incapable of maintaining composure and levelheadedness when exposed to viewpoints that differ radically from your own, do not read this blog. I am 100% serious. Go look at pictures of kittens. In fact, even if you plan to read this, may as well open a new tab with kitten pictures just in case. Or, better yet, momongas. Or red panda cubs. Now then…

I missed the deadline to register to vote. I’m not particularly upset about that. As a New Yorker, I already know which candidate my state’s electoral votes are going towards (and as for local elections, I wasn’t well informed enough to responsibly vote anyway). Whoever wins this presidential election will inevitably bring good and bad, and I guess it’s our inability to agree on who will bring what that leads to such divisiveness. For what it’s worth, I think socialism is the greatest danger to economic prosperity and true social justice, and as Obama’s policies tend toward that extreme I fear for the economic impact he will have. I also fear for the rights of religious institutions to freely practice what they feel convicted to practice. Already church-funded institutions are being asked to provide medical care they have moral problems with. How long before church-based charitable organizations have their tax-free status completely revoked on the basis of their unwillingness to compromise on certain doctrinal issues?

Romney is hardly a knight in shining armor either. While his business practices will likely lead to better economic recovery there is sure to be a cost, and I’m honestly not sure what that cost will be. Many have already noted that they’re not voting on the basis of things like guns, homosexuality, or the environment, because jobs and the economy are more important. And while that’s good, if Romney wins many of these people will likely find themselves in an America in which they have a job but have taken a hit on the other fronts about which they care.

There is one issue, however, which I really would like to address, because I have seen far too many rallying cries from my more liberal friends and it has gotten to the point where I honestly cannot remain silent. I am sick of being painted black, and sicker still of the many with whom I agree who have done nothing to address this problem. I speak, as it were, about abortion.

A great many people seem to be under the impression that this is a women’s rights issue. They couch their platform in language that conveys that abortion is about a woman deciding what happens within her own body. On the basis that some women do not have a choice about becoming pregnant — that some are forced to have sex, which is the natural process leading to pregnancy — they argue that for a woman to truly have “choice,” she must be able to terminate a pregnancy regardless of whether the conception was consensually brought to term.

This of course brings up a great many other issues which are also trumpeted as women’s rights: contraceptives and morning after pills are considered critical and necessary healthcare for which advocates of this position want the government to pay (using, of course, the tax dollars of plenty of people whose moral and religious convictions expressly forbid such things). Nevermind the fact that sexual intercourse is (with rare exception) a completely optional part of life, and that any healthcare which addresses its consequences must also be considered optional. While I won’t stoop to the depth of one infamous radio host, I can sympathize with his point: the only women who can honestly say they need these services are those who refuse to stop having sex until they are ready to have a pregnancy.

I’ll allow for the possibility of oversimplification. Contraceptives aren’t my point here, and to be honest I’ve never really given much thought to the ethics of using them. I don’t subscribe to a religious doctrine that has a hard and fast law (of which I’m aware, at any rate) regarding their use, and even if I did I’m neither a woman nor a husband and so am currently indifferent.

What is my point, however, is the sort of thinking that has led many Americans to argue for optional consequence-dampeners as fundamental entitlements to be paid for out of my pockets. It’s the sort of thinking that says that anyone who disagrees with such practices “hates women,” “will take away women’s rights,” “will set us back a hundred years” and all the other ways in which you can say that a man who has a problem with funding contraception is a troglodyte.

Contraception is as much an economic issue as it is a moral one, but it’s been painted as a civil liberties case and thus opponents of its flag bearers are set as enemies to freedom. And so with abortion. Time and again I’m told that my stance against the practice means I am trying to limit the fundamental rights of a free and equal woman. Our dialogue brings that nomenclature to bear: I call myself “pro-life,” but you call me “anti-choice.” I say “the choice was to have sex,” you say “not all women have that choice.” I say “not the point,” you say “Agreed. The point is it’s my body, and the government needs to get their hands off of it.” I say the government needs to intercede and you say screw off.

The problem here is that abortion is not a civil liberties issue, and it’s not a women’s rights issue. Perhaps, more accurately, the problem is that people like me don’t view it as a civil liberties issue, and our entire position is framed from a completely different conceptual universe from those who support it. The same evil you see in those ostensibly trying to keep women in an inferior position to men is an evil I see in you, for something arguably far more pernicious than chauvinism: murder.

I define life as beginning at conception.

That is as simple as I can make it, but people seem to miss the point. I earnestly, and deeply, and beyond any shadow of doubt believe that. And with that belief there are certain intractable conclusions by which I stand and stake my position. If life begins at conception, then termination of that life must be considered the same regardless of whether it is done at 10 years, 10 months, or 10 days from its start. We have legal and ethical frameworks for defining what the termination of a human life is. We call it murder.

I see abortion as the termination of human life.
I see abortion, therefore, as murder.
I see those who have and provide abortions as murderers, or accomplices to murder.
I see those who support abortion the same way I would see a person who candidly and with unwavering conviction told me that they thought shooting or stabbing other people was a perfectly acceptable practice if that person inconvenienced or endangered you, or infringed on your wants and needs in any way.

The question of whether the murderer is a man or a woman never enters the equation. I do not believe anyone has a “right to murder.” To the extent that abortion is a civil liberties issue, it is a matter of the right to life for the unborn — not a right to choice for the woman who, I daresay in most cases, at least had a choice when it came to the intercourse. And while I will never, ever justify rape or make excuses for a rapist, two wrongs have never been considered the path to righteousness. Committing murder because you’re a victim of rape does not paint you in a sympathetic light, and I’m not sure why anyone would think it would.

I do not hate women. In fact, I generally prefer them to men. I get along with them better, I feel more comfortable with them. I would rather talk with a woman, learn from a woman, be cared for by a woman, work with a woman, play games with a woman. And whenever I see a woman treated as inferior — be it receiving unequal pay, slander, coarse joking, or any of the myriad ways in which men mistreat the fairer sex — it bothers me greatly.

But when it comes to abortion, this is not that. Don’t kid yourself into thinking my position is as simple as feeble-minded bigotry, and don’t shame yourself by disregarding me as another woman-hating white man with antediluvian ethics. I stand against something that has always been wrong and defy those who would redefine the limitations on the inalienable right of all humans to life. And in our discourse, I think it’s critical to treat one another with the respect to which we claim to believe all people are entitled.

Stop calling me anti-choice; give me the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume I believe what I do because I don’t like women having freedom. Likewise, I’ll assume you don’t support murder, and I won’t do you the indignity of calling you anti-life. Our disagreement lies in our definition of where human life begins, and that is the only battlefield worth fighting on because all the other fights are distractions from that one, simple point. Argue elsewhere on either side and you slip into the stereotypes of the other side’s framing. A person who believes life begins at conception had better not be supporting abortion in any circumstances whatsoever. A person who believes otherwise has no basis for limiting who has access to the abortions he or she believes acceptable. I see no margin for exception that cannot rightly be defined as hypocrisy.

This political season has brought out the worst in so many of us, and frankly I’m glad I can’t vote, because I’ve been relieved of the burden of responsibility temporarily. It’s replaced with a guilt that I did not do all I could to ensure that the way I view things is the way our nation is run; but then this issue, like so many others, isn’t won with a ballot. Electing a “pro-life” candidate won’t convince people that life begins at conception anymore than electing a “pro-choice” candidate will convince people it doesn’t.

I’ve used strong language here, partly because I’m naturally aggressive and partly because I wanted to leave no room for the typical equivocations and qualifications I tend to use to hash up so much of the conviction from which I write. I don’t want to start fights and I don’t want to offend and make people hate one another. If I have offended you because I’ve called you a murderer or murder sympathizer, perhaps it will help to consider that you’ve been calling me a woman-hating bigot for years and that hasn’t stopped me from getting along with you. All I hope to have accomplished is to diffuse things a little bit with clarification, and give you — whichever side of this divide you’re on — a reason to take pause next time you’re about to share or post some partisan blog or slogan and consider the terms in which we phrase this delicate, heated discussion. We both believe that people are equal and important; in our endeavors to defend those truths, let us not make the mistake of dehumanizing those who oppose us. It may be inconvenient, it may be hard, but in the end we’ll all be better off for showing our enemies just a little love.

All that aside, abortion is not likely to be a major issue in this election, and what I’m about to say is not meant to be associated with what I just said:

If you, unlike me, are registered, I encourage you to go and vote tomorrow for a candidate you can honestly say you believe in, and I truly, truly mean that. I do not care who you vote for. I think there are extremely valid reasons for supporting either of the main candidates. I also think there are reasons to vote for neither of them. So if you can’t honestly say you believe in any candidate, I encourage you not to vote. Because there’s no sense betraying your own conscience to support a platform officially with which you emotionally or psychologically disagree, particularly if they win and you find yourself in years to come regretting having done so. So many people will tell you that there’s no such thing as a vote that “doesn’t count.” If you believe that, then act on it: value your suffrage, and use it with conviction and intent. The right to vote entails the right to withhold a vote.

May your decision tomorrow — whether Obama, Romney, Other, or none — be calculated and honest, and may our nation’s future be one of hope, however the ballots fall.

a l o n e . . . ?

I’m kind of an expert on being alone. I’ve been doing it for quite some time; as long, in fact, as I can properly remember. I was alone ever since in second grade someone told my friend Ben that I had flipped him the bird (I hadn’t) and he no longer wanted me to come to his house and play hide-and-seek. Then in seventh grade I made a friend named David, but I was still pretty alone, and we didn’t hang out much. In ninth grade I broke out of my shell a little, but I was still pretty alone, and all through high school, though the shell continued to crack, and though I found myself with people more than ever before, I was still alone.

In college, I wasn’t as alone. I didn’t have the luxury, and it was actually a little scary, because I’d gotten used to being alone. Now I was unalone. That’s not a word, but that’s what I was. Like being undead — not living, but no longer dead. I was a social zombie.

There were bright, dazzling moments of togetherness throughout those four years. True belonging, true meaningful relationships. But these served merely to accentuate the loneliness, because like all good things they came to ends, and I’d stand in rooms that had been filled with people who I liked and watched them all leave, mostly in groups, mostly together, without me, and then it’d just be me, and the light switch, “last one out” and all, and I was alone.

That’s kind of how college ending felt, and I went into a bit of a panic, because after seeing what living felt like I remembered the cold emptiness of pre-college and saw it closing in on me like a hideous trap. I decided to live with people in Pittsburgh primarily because I didn’t want to be alone again. I became obsessed with a pretty friend and ruined that relationship because I didn’t want to be alone again.

Two months later, I was alone again.

I have spent a year living at home, which is loneliness compounded by loneliness. The home, even full, is empty. Two parents work all day, returning mostly too tired (or else not returning, too busy) for whatever company I might have hoped for. Two siblings too caught up in their own lives — the lives, too, of friends reaching out online — and so, most days, even with someone two doors down, I am alone.

David does not live here. Nor does anyone I went to school with that actually liked me or knew me. Nor does Andrew, nor Jonathan, nor Rich. They have lives, they have communities, and they are not alone.

Here, in this town, I am alone whether I am inside or outside, among people or not. At church, I am alone. I have been for a long time. I have not belonged here for at least three years, but I kept coming, because the alternative was to be alone. People have reached out, a few — another David, for whom I am (though I don’t convey it) grateful — but mostly, I have been alone.

Of course, I haven’t been alone.

No, not really. I’ve been ignoring One who was there the whole time, and though at times we spoke (many times I felt like I was merely talking aloud to myself), He was there, and that was a comfort when it needed to be. But I was created for human interaction, and I have been starving, and in that sense I have been alone.

I wrote a poem, the other night, after an evening with my grandmother. I arrived early for dinner, anticipating a wait for a table that did not end up existing, and so I had twenty minutes to look around at all the people sitting with other people, to answer the waiter three times that I was fine, that I had just arrived early (I think he thought I’d been stood up), and to consider how not okay I was, how alone I was, how despite my grandmother’s impending arrival, I had been stood-up, stood-up by the world at large. My mind wandered back to Pittsburgh, all the meals eaten in shameful solitude at some restaurant or another, iPhone in hand to make it look like I had A Life, A Purpose, that I was Okay with being Alone.

As the night unfolded, we walked through the mall, in search of clothing that would fit me and maybe a pair of shoes. We passed so many couples, young lovers, holding hands, asking for advice on this blouse, those jeans, these sneakers, stealing kisses and glances. And I realized that the actual reason I hate going to the mall is because it is one more place where I am alone with other people who are not.

I listened to Billy Joel on the way home because the grand opening of an LL Bean store had hired a tribute band, which had been playing “Only the Good Die Young” as I turned the ignition and slowly backed out of the crowded lot. I was scandalized by the lyrics, to which I paid real attention for the first time, considering both Joel’s hostility towards Virginia’s (of course that’s her name) moral backpedaling from his sexual advances and the fact that I’d almost never tried to get a girl to go out with me for anything at all, certainly not with that sort of enthusiasm. “I might as well be the one” really only works if you consider yourself worthy of her, and I had some esteem issues to be sure.

Eventually my favorite song of his came on, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” and as I crooned along about reds and whites, I had a bit of an epiphany: how alien the experience I was singing about was to my own life! I didn’t “remember those nights hanging out at the village green” because I’d spent my high school and college years mostly cooped up by myself. I’d never partied, I’d never had alcohol prior to turning 21, and while I did not in any way resent that, I still couldn’t help feeling like I’d missed out on American teenage life, immortalized in song (with all its ups and downs) by the Piano Man himself.

Home, lying on my bed, I tried to fall asleep but the memories of the evening’s pain and emptiness lingered in the forefront of my mind, so I got up and wrote this improvisational piece:


I felt it, God
I felt
Today, the mall
the way to it but also there
and back again
I felt alone.
He held her hand, she held back
nothing (save his hand)
And they held each other.
No one held me.

Each pair an echo of two ones
And I, a pair one short,
Looked on and, looking, felt a tug —
The strings of unpaired heart.

Why now, why there, why

I don’t know. And I’m afraid to ask.
It followed me, here it’s home
It’s in my room, in my bed,
Under this blanket,
In my mind.
It hurts.

My sweet romantic teenage nights!

But I am not a teenager.
My nights Romantic like Hawthorne,
never sweet,
never romance.
And I am not a teenager.

Never half a double date,
Never knew the feel.
Only ever been third-rate,
Un-sought-after third wheel.

God send a mend, a caring friend
A shoulder for my head to lend.
I’ll break, not bend — pray don’t offend,
But wounds like this I can’t not tend.
My life, my faults, I shall amend.
And daily will this prayer ascend:
“Dear God, my loneliness please rend;
A comforter or lover send,
Tell brokenness at last to end.
(Just one last thing do I addend:
My restless heart please apprehend,
And may it sole on you depend).”
And now to sleep my soul descend.
And all of heaven then Amen’d.


It was cathartic, through-and-through. I didn’t so much care whether it was good or not. I uploaded it to a less-read blog of mine with tags like “mediocre poetry” and figured “what the heck, maybe someone will be touched by it, maybe not. I just needed to write it.”

I found it strange, even as I lay back down to have a go at sleep once more, how comforting and yet unfulfilling the knowledge of God was in that particular nothingness. I’ve been raised to believe that He fills all the emptiness in us that nothing else can, the old “God-shaped void” routine. But this hole felt different, not really God-shaped, maybe girl-shaped, definitely people-shaped. And I knew that filling either void required pursuing Christ with relentlessness, but the knowledge only confirmed the reality of the current emptiness, the dire need which has been rising up in me cyclically for years, the one I’ve tried to fill with other, baser things and am always left craving something more, something pure, something tangible and permanent.

A day went by, uneventfully. My brother and I drove out through the rain to Applebee’s to get a late-night, half-priced meal of appetizers, and all I could think of was how lovely the rain-streaked roads looked reflecting the taillights of the car in front of me and how quiet it was in our car, how the raindrops were the only soundtrack, how Joshua and I have nothing to say to each other. A night ostensibly meant to be spent “bro-ing out” (for that’s what I jokingly called it) looked like it was going to be pretty mediocre.

And so it was. I tried a half-dozen threads of conversation but it’s hard to talk with someone who doesn’t want to. He gave me courtesy smiles and one- and two-word answers, but whenever I stopped talking, only the radio filled the air between us. Left to my own thoughts — voiced or otherwise — I began to survey the room, to see once more couples, happily chatting away, enjoying one another’s company, and again I felt the ache. Not for romance, but for companionship. Being with people wasn’t the answer. Being with people who wanted to be with people? Much closer.

Our ride back was even quieter than the ride there. I turned on some music to compensate for the absence of rain, but didn’t listen to it. Joshua stared at his phone like a drowning man stares at a life preserver just out of reach, and I knew he was just as alone as I was, only he didn’t realize it yet, so when we got home he would go back to his room and his closed door and his silent apathy, and I would go back to my room and my open door and my silent agony, and that was that.

This morning, stumbling into some coffee, I decided to return to my several-days-suspended reading of a copy of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz which I borrowed from Ryan, and almost laughed when I saw that the next chapter was about romance. It was compelling, insightful, the usual words I use to describe Miller’s writing. Mostly I saw myself, I saw the insecurity, and the selfishness (veiled and glaring), and though I had never dated and he had, we seemed pretty much on the same page when it came to not knowing what to do. As he says, “what little I know about dating is ridiculous and wouldn’t help rabbits reproduce” (140).

I stopped laughing, though, when I reached the end of that chapter — a haunting soliloquy from a husband to a sleeping wife — and saw the next chapter was entitled “Alone.”

“The soul needs to interact with other people to be healthy” (154).

If you wanted me to point out all the things Miller said about loneliness that spoke directly to me and the place I’m in, I could quote the whole chapter. But that right there, about the health of the soul, nailed my infirmity and prescribed the cure in fewer characters than half a tweet.

A week from today I will be starting my second day of work at a small web development firm on the Worcester side of the outskirts of Boston. I don’t really know what the future holds, but if it holds the plans of men like my boss and I, I will be living and working there for years. I’m looking forward to that, to having something to do, to being able to afford leaving my house and seeing movies again.

But mostly, I am looking forward to being around other people again, to a chance to not feel alone. I’m looking forward to living and working with Ryan, to knowing there’s another person at my fingertips who has been where I’ve been, who has been insecure like I have, who has read Donald Miller’s books and has left notes and underlined passages like the one I just quoted.

And I know that Ryan just got engaged, that sooner or later he will not be living with me anymore but will be living with his wonderful wife, but it’s a start, and a really great start, and God’s in it, His fingerprints all over it, and for the first time in many years I know I’m not alone at all.

Amen? Amen.