Life’s a roller coaster

Trying to think clearly on guns

The national response to the Newtown gun massacre has been nothing less than surreal. One still wonders if a more horrific tragedy is needed to shake this country out of its sick fascination with guns.

The statement from the NRA gun cult suggests a vision of America that could only be judged as nightmarish, if not perverse. In it, we would all be living like frightened rats, clutching guns and forever looking over our shoulders. Every trip to the supermarket, the mall, the theater or a school would be a potential OK Corral shoot-out. To me, this is a scenario from Hell, one that the Founding Fathers would have found obscene. Personally, I’d rather be dead than survive like that, for such a reaction isn’t living but slow-motion death.

Gun fanatics throw up the usual smokescreen about terminology as if words make a mass-killing weapon nicer. Designations such as “assault rifle,” “large capacity magazine” and “semi-automatic” all mean the same thing. You can shoot a lot of bullets in a very short time. And the purpose of such armament serves only one purpose: to kill people. As such, the standard NRA garble that gun ownership honors the Constitution and preserves freedom is so much malarkey. Our obsession with guns is based on fear, violence and power, nothing more.

It is worth mentioning that few, if any, of the gun massacres over the past years were committed by people with criminal records. All were “normal” citizens until they passed over that fine line that separates maintaining and losing control. And make no mistake, every one reading this (including me) walks that fine line every day. Although we live in a society that convinces us we need to be walking smile buttons projecting bubbly happiness, in truth everyone experiences moments of depression, defeat, hopelessness and despair. It’s called “Life.” There is nothing wrong feeling these emotions and if we locked up each American who exhibited such symptoms, there would be nobody left to run the country.

I can ponder the invisible switch that makes people surrender to violence. After the Columbine school shooting, I wrote an opinion piece for the Hampshire Gazette admitting that when I was in high school, I had similar fantasies as those put into action by the “Trenchcoat Mafia” as the shooters called themselves. Like many trapped in adolescence, I was lonely and my isolation made me prey to desperate thinking. Fortunately, there were no guns in my home and I had that one friend who kept me grounded. After the piece was published, I half expected the police to knock on my door and haul me away. Instead, the local mediation collaborative called and invited me to design a workshop for high school kids which I did. It was titled “Can You See the Real Me” and focused on the cliques, hierarchies and in-crowds that made the institution such a living hell for some of us.

The point is, you can’t incarcerate everyone who thinks negative or dangerous thoughts because we all do (if you disagree, monitor your thinking the next time a relationship ends). Unfortunately, American society is prey to the worst kinds of drug pushers whose names are Lilly, Pfizer and Merck among others. Their remedy for any kind of mental discomfort is to take a pill, a magic antidote that will chase all those blues away. But for every medication, there is a side-effect that can be as bad, if not worse. If you read the small print (and I suggest you do), you’ll notice that a standard anti-depressant can cause aggression, panic attacks, suicidal behavior, hallucinations, convulsions or death.

I have seen some of these symptoms first hand. A teenage boy I once knew, depressed because his parents had recently divorced. His prescribed medication caused such a psychotic reaction that he needed to be incarcerated (briefly, thankfully). Nobody suggested that perhaps he had the right to feel bad and allowing him to grieve for his parents would have been far better than giving him a “happy” pill.

The only thing that has ever worked when I’m in the throes of life’s downsides is meditation. It has no corrosive side effects and allows me to sink past the emotional chaos into the core of my being, which is usually at peace. From there, I can re-orient, evaluate whatever is troubling me and decide upon solutions. It’s like putting the mental motor into neutral. However, it only works when I remember to do so.

In truth, life contains cycles of highs and lows, periods of elation and times of doubt. It has always been this way and the only remedy I would suggest, besides meditation, is acceptance and faith. And having people around you who can offer love and support. It goes a longer way than guns and medication. If I make it sound easy, it isn’t. But it does work and that’s all that matters.

Daniel A. Brown has lived in Franklin County since 1970 as an artist, writer, amateur historian, and photographer. He is a frequent contributor to The Recorder and welcomes feedback at

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