For the past 10 days, following the Covenant School shooting here in Nashville, whenever I've noticed a small child—perhaps holding a parent’s hand, skipping happily—I’ve thought: There’s a kid who is not dead.
Or: There’s a kid who could easily be dead.
This reminds me of the time after 9/11, when, if I spotted an airplane in the sky, I’d picture it bursting into flames. Every time: boom.
What I couldn’t have imagined then is that twenty years later I’d be caught in a similar, miserable associative loop, only with children as the target—the immolated objects.
But here we are, and the terrorism is not in the sky but in schools, and democracy is crumbling, and this is my state of mind. To witness a kid just being a kid and skip immediately to murder, carnage, is a disturbing place for a brain to go. A real glitch in the processing. But I doubt I’m alone.
“I am so mad about guns I feel like I'm going to burst into flames,” a friend wrote me. “Silent screaming through every minute of the day,” I wrote to someone else. I don’t think I have anything to say that hasn’t been said more effectively than I could say it. But there are times when it’s important to add your voice—not to trumpet your particular call, but to amplify a message, and to let the record state. State, not skip.
Let the record state, I did not stand for this. We will not stand for this.
In that spirit, here are words shared by a few other Tennesseans who, over these strange spring days, have felt heartsick and enraged and mournful, first by another preventable school shooting, and now by a crisis of democracy perpetrated by a Republican supermajority.
Margaret Renkl writes:
What Tennessee Republicans may think of Mr. Jones, Ms. Johnson and Mr. Pearson is far less important than what Tennessee Republicans may think about American democracy. Because democracy does not exist in a state where officials can be sent home for nothing more than voicing the opinions of voters who are pounding on the statehouse door, demanding to be heard.
In fundamental ways, none of this is surprising. Twenty-first-century Republicans are always demonstrating a truth that the Roman historian Tacitus understood back in the first century: It is part of human nature to hate someone you have hurt. In refusing to expand Medicaid, in attempting to replace public schools with private charters, in disenfranchising Democratic voters, in persecuting L.G.B.T.Q. citizens and demonizing school librarians, in stripping bodily autonomy from Tennessee women and in failing to protect us all from gunfire, they are telling us exactly how they feel about the people they represent.
My real hope lies in people like Justin J. Pearson, Gloria Johnson and Justin Jones. Whatever happens to them at the hands of their fellow legislators tomorrow, we have not heard the last from them. Of that I have absolute confidence. The shining example of the great John Lewis, who cut his own teeth opposing injustice in Nashville, taught them how to cause “good trouble.” Clearly, they have learned from the master.
Billy Kilgore writes:
We can’t look away from the traumatized eyes of the child on that school bus. Instead of going about business-as-usual, we owe it to her and kids across our state to examine her face and then ask: what is the right thing to do?
In the South, where we exalt religious values, it’s disturbing that so many elected officials who wear their Christian faith like a badge, ignore Jesus’ teachings regarding children. Throughout the gospels, Jesus demands his followers to prioritize children. In Matthew 18, “the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Again and again in the New Testament, Jesus rebukes those who seek to minimize the importance of children. Following Jesus means looking into the face of a child even when it is uncomfortable, even when that child is terrified. He makes clear they are his priority and rejects putting other things before them.
It’s past time to put aside whatever we are prioritizing over children — guns, financial gain or party loyalty. It’s time to look at the face of the terrorized child on the school bus and do what we must to carry out her best interests. What must we give up? What must we recommit to? We owe this to every child in our state. Nothing less.
And Theo Hall writes:
Writing about my weird design obsessions seemed so incredibly hollow. Everything felt incredibly hollow. It was an elementary school. These kids were about the same age as I was when I was developing my design hyper-fixations. When my concerns revolved around the strangeness of the plaid bit at the start of a new role of Scotch tape.
Then, on a phone call with my brother, I found out the shooter was a trans person and a graphic designer. My brother wanted to know if I knew him. “I mean, I know not all graphic designers know each other,” he said. Which is true: I didn’t know the shooter.
My mother texted me the next day to see how I was doing. I responded with what is actually the most dystopian text I’ve ever sent. “I'm processing,” I said, “With the rhetoric that's been going around about trans people, I'm honestly very scared on top of being mad at the government and grieved for the families. I think that things are gonna get really bad for people like me.” …
…[I]in the immediate aftermath of another “once in a generation” catastrophe, I find myself in this same place: All of my hyper-fixations feel hollow. Art seems more like an opiate than a balm. I question my choice of profession. I question my decision to come out at all.
F I E L D T R I P is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
In the week following the shootings, Thalia and I were anticipating the 3/31 release of “the record,” by boygenius, a small cultural moment for which we were exceedingly pumped. We’ve had the album on repeat ever since, belting along in the car: “I don’t know why I am / the way I am!” Alongside Elliot Smith, boygenius are the musical artists Thal and I bond over most. You best believe I’m treasuring every second of our shared listening and lyric dissecting and IG feed fawning. Given the political backdrop, this feels like cognitive dissonance—but also melodic respite.
and a cake for the pink moon and weary spirits
The thing sunk in the middle, but hey, a sunken spot in a frosted cake just means there’s a frosting-filled happy place inside, right?
The recipe can be found here.
If you need me, I’ll be eating cake and following the Tennessee Three: Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson. Heroes, all.
Otoh, if you’re like, my dear, you need help, ummm maybe?
Thanks for this salve, Susannah, in such a wounded time here in our state. I am going to have to try to make that cake (and I hope mine falls too because a lump of frosting is the best). X
11:45 pm ... very proud, and a happy ending to a very long day ❤️