“And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4).
It’s one thing for gun zombies like Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA), to dumbly recommend more guns as a remedy for gun violence. As mind-numbing as proposed solutions such as these may appear, they may actually have their merits. There may, indeed, be some academic proof (however lazily concocted) to help validate such ‘eye-for-an-eye’ zealotry. There may, indeed, be some asymmetric validity to certain ‘solutions’ that advocate meeting force with the threat of even greater force; violence with violence more ‘appropriately’ applied.
So goes the arguments: If only that crazed kid in Sandy Hook had run into an armed teacher or principal; if only that insane kid in Aurora, Colorado bumped into an armed patron in the parking lot on his way to cinematically slaughter countless innocent, but alas, unarmed movie patrons.
However, it’s another thing to recommend countering violence with violence when the smoke has settled and the calm intrudes. It is physically impossible to arm oneself against loss and grief. What policy proposals should political and economic elites recommend for dealing with a nation of bereaved parents who can’t sleep at night? The greatest violence in an act of gun violence isn’t the immediate homicide(s) or injury(ies) resulting from it.
When Phyllis Duncan’s 21-year old son, Dodavah, was shot and killed in Elgin nearly ten years ago, the day after Mother’s Day, she gradually became victimized by the greater violence. “My son died on a Tuesday and I was back to work on a Thursday,” she said. Depression sank in. She began to mistake anxiety attacks for heart attacks. She said that her job wasn’t prepared to handle her special circumstance. It wasn’t until she gathered the energy to focus on the process of grieving correctly that she began to transform herself from a victim into a survivor.
We rely on experts to administer a lot of basic necessities — food, water, shelter, democracy even. Ms. Duncan, host of the Maywood Show on Comcast channel 19, realized, however, that to overcome the emotional and psychological trauma of her son’s death, she had to rely on herself and her family. She may relate to M’du Hlongwa, a poor squatter in Durban, South Africa, who put the matter emphatically: “I want to say clearly that I am the Professor of my suffering.”
And so, when Ms. Duncan realized that there were pitiably few ‘expert’ organizations or government agencies designed to deal with her suffering, she took the matter into her own hands. In 2006, she started Mothers of Murdered Sons (MOMS), a support group that, despite the name, assists mothers and fathers in grieving over the loss of their children. Since its founding, MOMS has expanded its outreach to include dozens of parents all across the Proviso-Leyden Township community who have lost children; not only to gun violence, but to a host of different causes.
“We want to just celebrate and let people know we are not just victims but victors. [We’re focused on] keeping our sons’ and daughters’ names strong […] Nobody can put a label on the loss of a child,” she said. In 2009, the Village of Bellwood, in partnership with the American Association of Blacks in Energy, donated a parcel of land between Washington and Mannheim to Duncan’s organization. Every May, the group descends on the land to cultivate native plants and exchange memories.
Phyllis Duncan and Germaine Porter, MOMS’s Advisory Board President and head of Outreach, are the event’s anchors. Since they started pruning and tilling and digging several years ago, the two have benefited from the largesse of a variety of businesses, organizations and individuals. Home Depot donated $100 worth of flowers and bushes this year, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinckle donated some native plants last year.
This May, Duncan and Porter, who also lost her son, Kenneth Porter, Jr., to gun violence and has been a vital presence in the organization for nearly 8 years, were focused on restoring the garden to its earlier luster. “We’ve had two floods here in Bellwood for the past four years […] so we’re replenishing the plants,” said Duncan. That’s an apt metaphor to describe their grieving process. “Me and Germaine could be in the store and we would just be flooded with grief [that] people [who haven’t experienced it, don’t] understand. We still have those days when we’re overwhelmed […].”
One moment the floods, another moment perennials.