When I was 21…

When I was 21 I was still fascinated with Ayn Rand; objectivism, rational self-interest were all seductive ideas.  I agreed with every theory she espoused and wanted to fashion the rest of my life as a Dagny Taggart wannabe.

I came to the US at this age.  The people who worked with me then called me a sponge.  They were impressed at my rate of absorption of all things American.  I remember a colleague from those times – Rick Lennett.  He was an older gentleman, probably in his late sixties, and his water cooler conversation often centered around his weekend hunting sprees; bear hunts, deer hunts, venison preparation, etc.  I used to listen to his stories.  I was an engaged member of his audience.  He walked in one day with a petition that he was having people sign.  It was a petition that was opposed to any form of gun control.   My colleagues were adding their names to this piece of paper and as a consequence I didn’t think twice about signing it.  I was one of them, eager to emulate, be like them.

How did I feel about the 2nd Amendment then? Did I have any opinions about the NRA? I had no opinions, no thoughts on the subject.  Did I want to appear as though I was one of them? I most certainly did.  The incidents at Columbine and Virginia Tech hadn’t shaken us up back then.  If Rick Lennett, my new American colleague, was selling the notion that we had the right to bear arms, then I was buying it without reservations.  That was my 21 year old mind.

My boss at the time, my very first boss, was just an year older than me.  He used to go around talking and dressing like someone whose ancestors hailed from Sicily because the people who he reported to were from Sicily or from other parts of Italy.  He told me he was from Puerto Rico but if anyone asked me I was to say he was Italian.  He thought it would make a better impression on his bosses and result in a swifter ascent up the company ladder.

Yes, 21 and 22 year old people, most of them, are just that shallow.  I acknowledge and respect the ones who are wise beyond their years and amaze the rest of us by their unfathomable depth.  But such stellar young people are more an exception than a norm.  That’s what my experience has shown me.  I haven’t been pro-gun, anti-choice, pro-capital punishment or anti-immigration for most of my adult life.  I went from being sans opinion to having these opinions.  My personal evolution led me to this point.  But at 21, I was shallow as they come.  People just don’t know who they are, who they have the potential to be at these first bewildered steps into adulthood.

Some are worse than the others.  Jared Lee Loughner, 21, falls in that category.  He has come of age in these vitriolic times. He has been baptized in the toxicity that permeates public rhetoric these days.  Perhaps he visited Sarah Palin’s website and saw various congressional districts around the country represented under the cross-hairs of a gun, as targets, on a map on her website -a map that has been removed after the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  Gabrielle Giffords’ district was on that map.  She was shot in the head at point blank range.   A federal judge and a nine year old girl born on 9/11 were killed during this shooting and several others critically injured.

One only needs to read the placards carried at Tea Party gatherings, or catch whiffs of elevator or water cooler conversation to realize how toxic we have become as a society, to see how a crowdsourced herd of delusional people are amplifying every manic notion and idea, to hear of people who are sold on the idea of taking up arms against the government.

There are so many shows on television these days encouraging people to free their bathrooms, kitchens and pantries of toxic, carcinogenic elements – encouraging the usage of BPA free plastic containers, organic foods, vinegar-based household cleaning – discouraging the use of anything that could be potentially toxic or carcinogenic.   We want our homes to be as full of goodness and health as we can make it.  The movement is strong and gaining strength.  Who wouldn’t want to be aboard?

Why then are our personal interactions, our politics, our public discourse so awash in harshness, in verbal toxins?

I have often heard that driving, being able to use the roads and highways, is a privilege, not a right.  Why then must bearing arms be a right? Why isn’t it treated like a privilege? Why are we averse to ensuring that guns don’t end up in the hands of dangerously half-baked individuals like Jared Lee Loughner? Why was someone like him in possession of a legally acquired weapon?

When have we ever heard of guns making the news in a good way?

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