Bearing witness: A Maine mass shooting

I have called Maine home for the last 21 years, and certainly I have often been ambivalent about this state for a number of reasons. Today, though, I write as a Mainer with a heavy heart.

One of the state’s nearly one-and-a-half million residents now linked together in our collective sorrow, as we find ourselves grappling with the horrific reality that our beloved state has become the site of the 36th mass shooting of the year in the United States and, by all reports, the largest mass shooting in Maine’s history. 

For all of Maine’s flaws, there is no denying the beauty and the humanity of this state. Even in my darkest moments, when living here felt like a prison sentence, there was never a question that this is a special place. 

A place where trust in our fellow humans is more of the rule than the exception. A place where large portions of the population don’t even bother to lock their doors. In some cases, as friends have told me, they don’t even know where their house keys are located. A place where despite being steeped in gun culture, many never fathomed that mass gun violence would ever touch this place. 

Yet, Maine is part of the United States and the same social ills that are woven into the fabric of the rest of the country are still very much here, often hidden and never acknowledged. Until Robert Card, the suspected gunman, walked into several local establishments in Lewiston, Maine, and indiscriminately took the lives of people going about their daily rounds. Drinks and food after work, bowling games after work—all interrupted by a man with a gun and no regard for human life. 

As of this writing, Card is on the loose and there is a manhunt underway for him. Much of the state is locked down, with many businesses—including the famed LL Bean, all the locations of one of our two statewide grocery chains, along with many schools and city offices—voluntarily closing for now. A decision that speaks to the humanity inherent in Mainers, and what makes this place so special. To go about our daily rounds in the aftermath of such unspeakable violence would simply add to the inhumanity of the situation.

Authorities are fairly tight-lipped but what we do know about the gunman is this: white, male, 40, military background, reportedly a firearms instructor, and reports that he was struggling with his mental health. 

Sigh. In many ways, if these reports are accurate, his is a profile that increasingly is a demographic of concern. White men. However, I’m not here to speculate on motive or how this fits into the larger picture;  that is for another time. 

On this day, a beautiful warm autumn day layered with a sorrow so visible that you feel it, I find myself wondering: How do we go on? How do we not let moments like this destroy us and harden us? How do we not allow ourselves to accept these moments as a macabre norm? 

Clearly. we have all seen the aftermath of mass shootings: thoughts, prayers, the POTUS extending condolences and ordering flags to fly at half staff. Conversations around gun reform and mental health that are often empty and performative, at best. 

This country is long overdue for meaningful gun reform, regardless of what the second amendment says. This country is in the midst of a mental health crisis, which is not helped by systemic barriers that make accessing timely and effective treatment damn near impossible—and at a time when the mental health providers themselves are at their limits. In Maine, having decent health insurance is no guarantee that you will be able to actually find a therapist, as more opt out of accepting insurance due to inadequate reimbursement. While I don’t fault them, it simply means that too many Mainers are falling between the cracks, which—in a state where guns are relatively easy to come by—makes for a dangerous situation. 

Is it possible to create communities of care that can support people in crisis before things escalate to this level? 

I don’t know; I don’t have the answers.

But just as other communities have grappled with these questions in the aftermath of their own senseless gun violence, it is now Maine’s turn to grapple with them. But before we dive deeply into those questions, this is a time to mourn. To mourn the lives lost, the injured and all impacted, directly or indirectly. Their lives will never be the same and, actually, all of our lives will never be the same. As we join the thousands of other communities across this nation in moving on beyond the horror of knowing that running an errand, grabbing a drink, or bowling could be the end of our lives. 

Life is fragile. This incident is a grim reminder of just how fragile and precious life is. It is a reminder to love fully and openly. But also a reminder of how we are all connected—how our lives are interconnected, whether we are in Lewiston, Maine, or Buffalo, N.Y. 

Friends, I wish I had more to offer. We need to fight like hell for meaningful change, to not let senseless violence push us into a fear that normalizes mass shootings. It is easy to feel powerless, as our elected officials offer empty platitudes, but I believe in the power of the collective. Together, we are not as powerless as the power-brokers want us to feel. If nothing else, remember these duplicitous gun-loving bastards who put weapons before safety at election time. 

Be gentle with yourselves. Allow yourself to feel the magnitude of your feelings and remember that is okay to unplug from the media or social media, if necessary. For locals, if I hear of any needs that the affected community needs, I will share on my social media. Be safe!  Lastly, we cannot allow Card’s vile actions to destroy the fabric of our state. We are bigger than one man’s hate and chaos.

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Image by Wyatt Dilley via Unsplash