My birthday was Tuesday, Dec. 11. As always, I search out who else celebrates with me, or who once had. Bess Armstrong was born Dec. 11, 1953, as I was. She found her way into movies; me, only into fading 8mm family reels from the 1960s. We don’t have a president, yet, born on Dec. 11—just a presidential candidate in John Kerry, a mayor in Fiorello LaGuardia and a senator in Max Baucus. If I could still ski, I might have tried the slopes along with my birthday mate Stein Eriksen. Mostly, it seems, the recent notable babies born on that date have migrated to entertainment, like Brenda Lee, Rita Moreno, Teri Garr, Carlo Ponti, Nikki Sixx and, of course, Grigoris Bithikotsis.
Then there is Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Tom Hayden. Pope Leo X and George Mason. Christina Onassis and Thomas McGuane. The list of people I annually associate with in this bizarre ritual of mine goes on and on. And now we Dec. 11 babies must add one more to our list.
On my birthday last week, I found myself in Bourbon House noshing on some of its unique appetizers: “Chad’s balls” (bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with sausage and cheese), bacon-wrapped tater tots, poutine (french fries with melted cheese and brown gravy) and “totchos”—traditional nachos made with tater tots. I washed it down with an Olympia beer. Good times.
At the same hour, but nearly a continent away, a little girl was celebrating her own birthday good time, though surely with sodas and cake and ice cream. With all the toppings, I do hope, and with everyone she could ever hold dear. If hers was like so many other birthdays of 7-year-old girls, there was joy all around, a beaming family, laughter and the promise of many birthdays to come.
Today, I’m eight days past my birthday. Josephine would have only three days past hers.
She died Friday, Dec. 14, with many friends and teachers, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Once again, life proves to be patently unfair.
Over the past week, we’ve all returned to the debate about gun violence. Yet through experience and heartbreak, many Americans believe that this outcome will be like all the rest, that in due time we will have to return to that debate again. And again. And again. If America has no stomach for mass murder, it has less of one for doing something about it.
More and more, the legacy of my Baby Boomer generation is bracketed by the loud report and sulphurous smoke of a recently fired weapon. We watched a president die by gunshot in 1963, and we watched a president weep while speaking about the gunshots that killed 26 innocents in 2012. In between, nearly 500,000 of our fellow citizens died in homicides by handguns alone. Not counting homicides by rifles. And especially not counting assault rifles, as was used at Sandy Hook.
I’m not terribly familiar with assault rifles. The only other time I believe I saw the result of assault-weapon effectiveness was in photos and video of the My Lai Massacre that took place during the Vietnam War.
Americans were appalled at the piles of dead women and children. Confronting those images helped turn the tide of support against that war. For now, and for the right reasons, we only imagine the horror taking place in classrooms, movie theaters and even military bases in America. Then we go back to steeping our tea and making lame justifications for being able to possess weapons that kill hundreds of people in a few bursts or a score of children in just a few fewer bursts.
I am not one for repealing the Second Amendment that grants American citizens the right to bear arms. But neither should we accept that the Second Amendment means we cannot even examine or discuss gun control. Today, there are enough guns to arm nearly 90 percent of all Americans. That’s an army larger than China’s, not a militia. Is enough never enough? The freedom that a militia was meant to protect has turned to a life as slaves to fear instead.
And all of us, in between the radicals of the left and right, have to stand the ground that losing 20 children and their teachers is not the America we bargained for. That is not the price of freedom. That is the price of defiant ignorance.
On the day before his 16th birthday, Aug, 20, 2005—a day he will never forget—my oldest son had a gun aimed at his head from just a few feet away by a would-be car-jacker. Fast action spared him, and, assuredly, not having a weapon to point back saved him equally. That was in suburban Murray, no different than suburban Aurora, or suburban Newtown—not a rice paddy or a war zone. Why does our “free” society allow and tolerate this?
I cannot begin to understand why it is that Josephine Gay will not celebrate her eighth birthday next Dec. 11. But I do believe she was a little angel. She was a “gift.” She never knew my name, but I will always remember hers. I will think of her and her family often. But remembering alone does not heal entirely or move us forward. We must end this madness. We have fallen far from the tree, America. Each of us has blood on our hands.
From Josephine’s obituary: “In celebration of her joyful and giving spirit, a charitable fund is being created in her honor. Information about this fund and her life will be released to the media shortly.”
When that announcement is made, I’ll let the readers of this column know about it. I hope that some of you might be moved to contribute something. Her funeral is this Friday.
Update: For those of you wishing to learn more about Josephine Gay and a way to donate in her memory, visit DougFlutieJRFoundation.org.