Broken Hearts, Broken Records, and Broken Democracy

I’ve always had a notion of being a weekly columnist, and in some ways this Keep It Rural newsletter scratches that itch.

One thing I like about writing these words on a weekly schedule is the rhythm of Tuesdays and the imperative to push send so my editorial team (props to the Daily Yonder’s Caroline and Adam) can get this puppy out the door on time and with enough decent quality for some of you to actually read the words, or at least click the links.

But then there are weeks — like the one we just had — where I’m about as functional as a flimsy spade in a field made of concrete. Since last Tuesday I’ve been more or less a puddle of tears and anger and confusion and sadness.

By now we’ve all been inundated with news about the tragic murder of children and teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas, last Tuesday. This horrific act in the wake of a grocery store shooting in Buffalo, New York, just a few days before, and on and on and on, the national violence map adding more bullet holes every week.

The Uvalde shooting hit me harder than the others, I have to be honest with you, and that doesn’t make me proud. I do have a rural bias, and a kneejerk reaction to blame affluence and suburbia for our culture of gun violence. It isn’t my best quality, and I admit that. 

Uvalde reminded me in a very visceral way that I am also a product of rural gun culture, though I never took to it as much a lot of people. My kin are hunting folks, both as an outdoors hobby and to put food on the table. I grew up working in my family’s butcher shop, where deer season was all-hands-on-deck and we actually made a little bit of money for a change. Between the hunting and butchering and raising livestock, killing was (and is) a brutal but necessary part of that rural landscape.

Finding some peace in this reality has been a difficult journey for me, made harder by the intractable gun worship so prevalent in modern political culture. The National Rifle Association has erected a temple of worship for weapons of war, growing increasingly powerful as a lobbying group with near-unanimous support among Republicans, and also a few Democrats. The Texas killing happened on Tuesday, remember, and they decided to go ahead and hold their gun rally later in the week. Right there in Texas. To me, that isn’t just bad taste, that’s giving the vast majority of Americans who want some sensible gun policies the middle finger.

What’s clear to me is that we need a national reckoning when it comes to mass murder, school shootings, and gun violence in our culture. We’re not getting it. If Uvalde can happen with hardly a political murmur, I just don’t know what to say.

I’ll turn to a line of poetry for some solace, I suppose. This is a phrase from “Memorial Day for the War Dead” by Yehuda Amichai.

Memorial day.  Bitter salt is dressed up
as a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,
for the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
like stepping over broken glass.

Rural Reading List

I’m gonna take a break now from the horrific reality of gun violence and give you some other reading fodder. Here’s this week’s Keep It Rural reading list for you:

Illustrating the News: The Battle Over Debt Relief for Black Farmers

This impressive illustration by Nhatt Nichols adds another chapter to the still-unfolding saga of potential Black Farmer debt cancellation.

She Warned the Grain Elevator Would Disrupt Sacred Black History. They Deleted Her Findings

This ProPublica investigation republished by the Daily Yonder is not to be missed.

U.S. Tweaks Farmland Conservation Deals to Fight Food Crisis

And important Reuters story documenting USDA’s action allowing early exit of conservation land to be used for crop production this summer.

How One Airline Leaving Small Airports Could Deal a Blow to Kansas’ Rural Economy

This Kansas News Service report looks at how the airline pilot shortage is impacting rural Kansas air service. 

One More Thing: A Lesson in Letting Go

In a week of heavy hearts and reflecting on loss, I’d like to recommend this essay from Daily Yonder digital director Adam B. Georgi. In, “What Happens When You Can’t Go Home Again?

“Saying goodbye isn’t easy, especially when it means cleaning out a childhood home and a half century of family memories,” writes Georgi, who takes us on a journey to his Northern Minnesota hometown. The occasion was the necessary work of preparing his childhood home for sale after his Dad recently passed.

I just want to say thanks to Adam for writing what must have been a difficult piece. I find this kind of thoughtful honesty to be a real joy to read. Maybe it was a balm because of the atrocities of a violent week. Or maybe it was just a look into the life of a person I can tell I would have enjoyed meeting.

Hopefully you’ll take a look and find it valuable yourself. And, such great photos.

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