I’ve been meaning to join Sunday Shorts for a while and this week my writing and current events clicked. In this meme you post short stories, novellas, or other short pieces of work. My essay reflecting on American gun culture “Americans Go to Their Guns” is my first participation in the Sunday Shorts meme. I talk about the irony that Americans feel the rest of the world – the Middle East in particular – is so unsafe and share perspectives of friends from the Middle East about conflict in America. This contrast became apparent to me a few years ago.
Reading news of the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado reminded me of a similar event which my husband and I also experienced from afar, the rampage by a student at Virgina Tech. Seeing tragic events from home while abroad casts an even more un-nerving quality to the surreal headlines. The discussions about gun control laws, the shock of ordinary citizens, the grief of the families feels familiar, and yet because each victim is unique, rings differently on the heart.
Here’s my excerpt. You can read the full essay which is part of the book From Dunes to Dior, my memoir about life in Qatar.
“In America,” our Moroccan friend says, “people go straight to their guns. Their anger shoots up.”
The rest of us at the table blink — we can’t really deny what he says. The Virginia Tech shootings are all over the news.
“What do you mean, Americans go to their guns?” one of us manages to ask.
We are in a Lebanese restaurant and our table is an ethnic hodgepodge: a couple, Latino American Catholics, my husband and I, Asian American Protestants, and an Arab African Muslim who has lived in the United States, so we can’t contradict his observation outright as lack of real experience in North America.
“When I was in the States, one night a man said to me, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ In Morocco, this happens all the time. We say, okay, kill me, but tomorrow, okay? Not today, I’m busy.”
He brushes one hand against the other, palm to palm, which is an Arab gesture to indicate a matter is finished.
We all laugh.
“But this night, the guy says this and the police ask me, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure you don’t want to —’ ” our friend stops.
He is at a loss for words. He can’t remember the idea the police officer had in mind. But the missing phrase is familiar to the rest of us.
“Press charges, that’s it.”
We smile grimly.
“I said no. I didn’t take the guy seriously. He is just saying something, you know? But the policeman takes me by the arm, around the corner, and he asks me again. ‘Are you sure?’”
Our friend scoops up some hummus with flat bread and chews thoughtfully.
“I used to think the police in America were too hasty, always going for their guns, but I know now they are not. They have to be that way because everyone else is that way.”
We Americans sit in silence as he explains the social etiquette of conflict in Morocco.
“At home, people argue for hours and you just let them. If two men are arguing, you let it continue and know they are not that serious, no matter what they say — if they start shoving — that’s a warning sign. People will go and break it up.”
Poor gun control is his analysis of the Virginia Tech massacre, but not for us Americans. Mental health, we insist. The shooter was mentally ill and needed extensive care. This is the real omission he fell into, not lenient gun laws.
“A person who wants to kill will kill. He will find a gun, no matter what laws there are,” someone retorts.
I wonder about each of our cultural models for conflict and resolution. For my husband and me, children of Asian immigrants, growing up we learned discretion in public and at home as a guiding principle. Each member of our respective families circulated on his/her own orbit, disturbing the others as little as possible.
Is this why I feel uncomfortable when our close friends erupt into an argument in the midst of social gatherings, their heated tones and speedy back and forth exchange leaving me a little breathless and embarrassed?