Can You Stand the Heat?

I may be older than dirt, as my kids like to remind me, but I am not too old to be called a snowflake, which USA Today describes as “a slang insult, often used in a derogatory way to suggest that people — often, but not always, young people — who take offense [at] anything from political policy changes to offensive comments are as weak and vulnerable as a speck of snow.” In this season of approaching winter and while I wonder if even a few flurries will grace the weather forecast by Christmas, I’m going to talk to you about snowflakes.

Back in October, I posted a little heartfelt moment of political participation on Facebook a couple days after one of those shootings…Las Vegas? Or was it the church in Texas? Anyway, I felt completely inspired to share this moment because I had kept silent too long. Here is what I said:

I did it! After years of being terrified to make a phone call for fear of bothering someone [my introverted personality shies away from phone calls] or discovering that what I want might be different from what those around me might want [I try too hard to please people instead of asserting myself], I called my senators and told them what I thought about gun control. I may not be an expert on the issue, and I stand to learn a lot about the current laws and restrictions, but I am no longer sitting idly by and assuming that those who speak loudest or with the deadliest force get to make all the decisions here. There are rights, and then there is the abuse of rights, and I have decided to err on the right to life even if safety means less freedom.

Freedom requires that everyone be basically good and willing to live according to basic principles of fairness and justice and even kindness, but if those principles are consistently violated, then we are not free, no matter how law-abiding we may be. I want my children to be able to look back and say that their mother chose the path of less violence and less bloodshed in the hope of preserving their freedom.

And to all those who use guns and are familiar with how to do so safely, and who are ready to protect their family in that way, I hope that your good intentions are never lost in translation in this discussion on gun control.

I believe there’s a better way than simply fighting with words or any other kind of weapon. So I’m starting with hoping that I can be safe just sharing my feelings. I feel more free than I have in a long time.

 

I may as well have kicked a hornet’s nest. Within minutes, I discovered that using the term “gun control” instead of a more politically neutral term, such as “gun violence” or “armed attacks” was a mistake. In the wake of yet another slaughter of innocent people at the hands of a mad man with a gun; trigger-happy thumbs and fingers were poised over screens, and sneering lips were perched near microphones ready to excoriate the next hapless idiot who dared encroach on the freedom of these appendages’ owner (you might call this “taking offense at an opposing view”). Though I did not say that I espoused any or all measures in the “gun control” camp, I had just revealed myself as the target for anyone hunting Second Amendment attackers.

One of these hunters (who began to sound like a troll) was my peer in high school, and he was the only Facebook friend to take such dramatic offense. We were not always in the same group of friends, but we went through a lot together. In years past,  if he was in a Facebook debate and I could tell things were getting heated, I had taken his corner. I didn’t want him to think it was him against the world since that can bring out aggression we wouldn’t normally show. On this occasion, however, his once ally became some faceless enemy that needed to be eliminated.

After a few exchanges in which I tried to refocus the discussion on what I had actually said, rather than on the straw man he kept trying to revive, I pointed out that his tactics made me feel unsafe. I have heard this word “unsafe” recently derided as a confusion of terms. But I was not simply uncomfortable. I was being attacked. I could have done something about discomfort by shifting my position a little. I could have decreased the heat with a chilly, apathetic response to my friend’s blows. But I prefer to keep my sensibilities near the surface in disagreements lest I forget that feelings–across the board–matter. And I wasn’t going to shift positions just because my words struck a target that had been enlarged by recent events. Call me stubborn, a glutton for punishment, or just plain stupid, but I let his next words hit me with full force when I checked back the next morning.

“Elissa, if you feel that words are more dangerous than the actual violent policy [I had not suggested a policy] you want to inflict on others, then goodbye you anti-freedom snowflake who wants to purchase a little temporary security in exchange for losing freedom and therefore deserve [sic] neither, according to Ben Franklin.”

When he slung the word “snowflake” at me, it pierced like the ice-filled snowball that a bully had leveled at my twin’s face when we were eight years old [yes, we feel each other’s pain]. It was not simply the intended effect that hurt; it was the shock of being treated with such indiscriminate disdain by someone whom I had respected [this bully had the sweetest mom in the world, so we assumed her son would be kind]. Though Facebook does not represent the totality of a friendship, being unfriended over the term “gun control” created an abyss where common ground could have been found instead. That loss, more than the lost association via social media, shook me.

This fragility in the face of differing views lingered in my thoughts. How will we work together if we assume that someone’s opposing view is reason enough to attack them? How do we listen to each other if we’re hurling insults and preparing rejoinders for the insults we anticipate in return?

I did some soul-searching on this point, and I decided to find other “snowflakes” to coordinate my efforts with. One source is a group of women who are faithful in the religion I live by and who are advocating for ethical government. In their voices, I hear my own. Another is a discussion group I started among politically-minded (and geographically distant) friends who tend to examine the issues instead of just reacting to the “opposition.” Thoughtful dialogue is a safe haven for snowflakes like me when elsewhere words are used to create distance and to flare hostilities. We carry one another’s burdens because  sometimes even snowflakes need a rest from the storm.

If I have just called you a snowflake, take heart; I mean it as a compliment. If I am a snowflake, then I hope all who are open, trusting, thoughtful, concerned, vulnerable, collaborative, and teachable will join with other snowflakes to make a difference where needed in this tempestuous world.

I chose to write today about my experience as a snowflake not just because it makes me feel young somehow, but because five years ago today twenty-six lives (most of them belonging to first-graders) were taken in a flurry of bullets, and as a tribute to them, I could think of nothing more reverent to do at the time than to make a unique snowflake for each one. I wanted to remember how fleeting and fragile our time is here in the storm of life.

IMG_5204

Nancy Lanza, 52, perpetrator’s mother (shot at home)
Rachel D’Avino, 29, teacher’s aide
Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, teacher’s aide
Lauren Rousseau, 30, teacher
Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist
Victoria Leigh Soto, 27, teacher
Students: Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
Ana Márquez-Greene, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6

(Source)

Five years later, I recognize more than ever just how fleeting and fragile we are, so I am slowly brushing off the fear that has settled on me like sleet–that captivating but blinding cousin of the snowflake–and I am pressing forward in faith. I thirst for what the storm brings even as it beats me down. But I have leaned into the storm and felt powerless long enough. Now I know that the storm swells with ideas, words, thoughts, hope, truths, data, evidence…not just the weapons of vitriol. So I am joining the storm.

I do not come in a fury that howls and tears at your world like it would fly to pieces. There is enough destruction already. I do scour your refuge for weaknesses where I can then accumulate one snowflake after another until my influence there is undeniable, or at least uncomfortable. Do I ask you to change your position? No, stay where you are and make your refuge more suitable against the destructive elements. But might you see the storm as something other than an attack? Perhaps as something desirable? Harness what is good and worthy in this storm and do away with fear.

I will not stop the world from coming apart at the seams, and I cannot predict the paths of other storms or the intent of their snowflakes. And eventually I will slacken; I will melt. But if we are to stand the heat of political warfare, I want my storm to at least melt and soak into the earth from whom innocent blood cries out for acknowledgment. Perhaps then life will prevail after all this destruction has ceased.

[the songs I refer to fit very well in many ways, but disregard the “making love” in Modern English’s song–that would be a weird way to interpret “melt” in my post]

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