Of Guns, Manatees and J.S. Bach


Driving cross-country gives you plenty of time to think. Maybe too much time.

The second and final leg of our journey home started just south of Chattanooga.   We were on the road by 7:30 Eastern time. Somehow, knowing that we were on the cusp of gaining an hour, moving from the Eastern to the Central Time Zone, felt like we had gotten an earlier start. The family, or at least the members that were with us (1 wife, 1 daughter out of 2, 1 grandchild out of 2, and 2 dogs out of 3) quickly settled into their traveling routines of napping, reading, and checking phones and iPads, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

I rewound the events of the last week and played them back. We over-ate in moderation at a myriad of good restaurants, caught lots of sun but avoided any burns, and collected a fair amount of shells without turning it into a job. One night I introduced my grandson to “The Princess Bride.” By any measure, our week on Sanibel Island, was a success. The highlight being a guided fishing excursion in pursuit of snook. The bonus part of that expedition came as we waited on the docks of Jensen’s Marina for our guide. A large group (herd?) of manatee was frolicking at the marina. Having never been a manatee, I don’t know what was going on, but my best guess would be that they were intent on perpetuating their species. In any case they were more active than any manatees I had seen before.

Unfortunately, my rewind of last week’s events included much less pleasant events: the killing of a young singer, the slaughter at the Orlando nightclub, and a the death of a 2 year-old at Disney. Any one of those events is cause for dismay, but coupled together in the span of a week they were downright depressing.

The mass killings at the Pulse nightclub in particular began to spin up the giant social-media fueled centrifuge that is our current political climate. There were calls for no guns; there were calls for more guns. Faster and faster it spins. No view is too extreme and no one can stand in the middle. Individuals claim to be standing on the left or right without realizing that they are being spun.  Each group is pushed to the extreme, surrounded only by others with like views who feed from carefully selected sources that only support their ideology. Each group carefully selects their symbols, their mantras, their flags. In thoughtful discussion comprised of 144 characters or clever memes, each side demands that the other lower its flags and accept the only true view of the world. The group on the opposite side of the centrifuge is unapproachable. And really, why would one even make the attempt? They are hate filled, intolerant, managing to be both naïve and conniving, barely capable of human thought. Perhaps the world would be a better place if they were just spun off the planet.

How did we get here?

Driving cross-country gives you plenty of time to think. Maybe too much time.

Imagine …

A man calmly walks down the pier of Jensen’s Marina, unslings a rifle and takes aim at one of the manatees frolicking in the warm Gulf waters. He fires a high-velocity bullet into the belly of the slow moving marine mammal. The slug exits the back of the manatee, ripping tissue asunder and spilling blood into the calm, warm waters that were a refuge just seconds before. Ignoring the animal’s squeals of pain, he fires again and again into the soft tissue of the sea cow until he finally fires a round into the beast’s head, spilling brain tissue into the salt water and stilling the manatee. He deliberately and methodically repeats this action until every manatee in the marina is dead and the lapping waves are highlighted with blood.

What would the national outcry be?

Would it be more or less than the outcry over the dead at the Pulse nightclub?

Would it be more or less than the outcry over the inner city children who are regularly caught in the crossfire of drive-by shootings?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “What seems to us more important, more painful, and more unendurable is really not what is more important, more painful and more unendurable, but merely that which is closer to home. Everything distant which for all its moans and muffled cries, its ruined lives and millions of victims, that does not threaten to come rolling up to our threshold today, we consider endurable and of tolerable dimensions.”

Perhaps Solzhenitsyn was not entirely correct, maybe it’s not just a matter of distance; maybe it’s easier for us if the victims are not members of our tribe, regardless of their proximity.

How did we get here?

I’m a child of the ‘60s. I grew up with protests, riots and civil unrest in the news. Yet the world then seemed a much safer place. We could ride our bikes for miles and be gone most of the day during the summer, knowing in general terms what our boundaries were and that we had to be home for supper.

I don’t believe that human nature has changed much over the decades or even centuries. As a Christian, I believe that since Adam, we have been a flawed, sinful species in need of a Savior. There have always been cheats, scoundrels, perverts, and killers. But, for the most part, we were held in check by our community, our social mores and our responsibilities to our family, our neighborhood, our church, and our school.

But our social mores have become viewed as too constrictive and old-fashioned, discarded in the name of progress and enlightenment we soared high on the wings of a false sense of liberty and freedom. Then we looked down and realized we had destroyed our safety net.

Rights and Responsibilities were once the best of friends. Where you found one, you would find the other. They walked to school together. When Rights took the test to get his driving license, Responsibilities rode shotgun. Entering the voting booth for the first time, Rights felt the reassuring hand of Responsibilities on his shoulder. But they have slowly drifted apart. Rights became sexy and hangs out with the cool kids, Responsibilities is no longer invited to the best parties and is now viewed as frumpy and old-fashioned.

Rights holds center stage in our political debate and national conscience. Responsibilities is nowhere to be found.

The storm clouds of egoism have whipped up the waves of narcissism that threaten to flood our nation. The “I” in the center of the storm is not just tolerated-it’s revered and worshipped. “My Desires,” “My Wants,” “My Wishes,” and of course the queen of them all: “My Rights” are extolled as virtues.

Driving cross-country gives you plenty of time to think. Maybe too much time.

Exiting the other side of Chattanooga, we began the ascent toward Monteagle. Grappling with problems over which I had no solutions or control, I realized that my thoughts were drifting into a morass of negativity. I deliberately discarded all political thoughts and took a quick, mental inventory of the occupants of our SUV. Each person meant more to me than life itself and my real world came into focus.

The terrain along Highway 24 here is too steep and severe to be sullied by billboards or fast food restaurants. The sun had risen but the quality of it’s light was soft and gently blurred the edges of the vista. Wildflowers growing along the road bent and swayed with each passing car and high, above the hills a hawk rode the thermals in an effortless aerial waltz.

It was Sunday morning.

I tuned the satellite radio to the classical music station and was greeted by the beginnings of J.S. Bach’s monumental Mass in b minor.

A peace came over me as the magnificent scenery melded with the majestic sounds of the choir. God’s handiwork and man’s creation using their God given talents became a seamless experience. Bach’s composition took on form and structure as layer upon layer, each voice contributed a thread to weave a musical tapestry.

I will never meet any members of that choir. I don’t know any of their hopes, dreams or struggles, but I know that as fellow humans they are flawed. Maybe they too struggle with common human frailties of lust, hate, fear and envy. But for this moment, they set aside their individual desires. They practiced, they studied and they committed themselves to come together to create something much greater than the sum of their individual roles. Part by part, voice upon voice, they built a world of perfect harmony where the chorus rose and fell like the waves in a following sea.

The soprano singers did not attempt to sing the tenor parts. The bass vocalists were not envious of the altos. Every member understood his role and his responsibility to the larger group.

Manatees, for all their endearing qualities, will never compose a symphony. Neither will they commit mass murder.

Man has  the capabilities to do both and the free will to decide in which direction to move.

Driving cross-country gives you plenty of time to think.

Maybe too much time.



Captiva and Sanibel Island t-shirts, gifts and souvenirs



2 thoughts on “Of Guns, Manatees and J.S. Bach

  1. Very well written. Very thought provoking. Thank you for taking the time to write it down so I could join you with, “plenty of time to think.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s