Out in the world, something dark and violent and ugly and fatal happens. On the television, everyone is talking about it. Quite soon, everyone is fighting about it. What was the cause? What is the solution? Who, or what, is to blame? (There must always be somebody to blame.)
And then, somewhere quite else, someone is writing about swallows. The talk of the nesting swallows reminds me of a man I used to know who lived in a house that was filled with wildlife. He didn’t really like it unless it was inhabited with birds and beetles. He died, from a stupid disease, much too young. Down at the horses’ field, my own swallows are flinging and flying. It seems hard, in the warm Scottish rain, to imagine the fifty lives which were just torn up as if they were so many pieces of paper, to imagine all those who grieve for them, who will miss them, who will never be quite the same without them.
I almost know why the shouting people shout. This is all very complicated and frightening and people want a nice, neat box to put horror in. There is a huge desire to blame it on The Other. The Other is safe, because it is not the enemy within. That’s the really scary one. The Other can take many forms – fundamentalism, terrorism, religious extremism, insanity. Those are easy, because they can be pointed at. They are over there. Hatred and violence and bigotry and the unravelling of the mental wires are more frightening, more complicated, more difficult, because they don’t belong in a neat box. They are not over there. They have their seeds in the familiar culture, in the zeitgeist, even, horribly, in the playground. From tiny seeds of prejudice, harmless name-calling, careless labelling, mighty oak trees of division and derision grow.
This was about lots of things. All those things will be shouted about in the next few days. And in the end, probably nobody will do anything. Everyone will call for action, everybody will say Something Must Be Done, and everyone will still be able to buy an assault weapon at Walmart.
One of the things it was about was hatred. The shooter hated gay people. Whatever else he loved, whatever else he hoped to achieve, whatever else was in his head, his hatred was clear. That is widely reported, even by his own family. On the internet, there is footage of a choir called the Orlando Gay Chorus, singing True Colours in honour of the victims. It’s very moving. The camera pans along, and there are men and women, white and black and brown, young and old, tall and short, slender and rounded. How, I wonder, could you hate all those people? They are all so different. They are all such individuals. They sing so beautifully. What blind category error makes a person scoop them all up and hurl them into the hatred box?
Also on the internet, various memes are off and running. One of them goes: Love is Love. I always think this when everyone gets hysterical about equal marriage. Woman and man, woman and woman, man and man: love is love. It really is. I don’t know much, but I do know this. The privileging of one kind of love over another is so odd. I take your gay love and I trump it with my hetero love. It’s not a game of poker. This is not a royal straight flush. Love damn well is love.
The good part, because in every tragedy there are good parts, the merest slivers of shimmering silver lining, is that the hatred will, in many quarters, be countered with love, and there will be unity and sympathy and empathy and the holding out of hands. The bad part is that nobody really knows what to do about that kind of hate and some people don’t want admit it even exists and all the shouting people will go on shouting, mostly about otherness and the Second Amendment.
But someone, somewhere, is talking about swallows. And that is what I cling to, because when faced by the very big, the very cruel, the almost inexplicable, I can only hold on to the very small.