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September 21, 2013 8:20 AM Good Morning

The world is full of misery for many people, but that's why we do politics.

By Max Ehrenfreund

Good morning, everyone. It’s another one of those days when I woke up wishing the world were a kinder place. This morning, I’m hoping that the bereaved families of those whom Aaron Alexis killed at the Navy Yard on Monday managed to get a little sleep last night. I’m also thinking about Deonta Howard, the 3-year-old boy who was injured along with a dozen other people in a shooting at a basketball court in Chicago Thursday night. A bullet from an assault rifle struck Howard in the ear and exited through his cheek. He will require plastic surgery, but is expected to survive, Had he been an inch to the side, he probably would have been killed — like his uncle, who was shot on Labor Day.

“Tay Man” (that’s the boy’s nickname) is lucky to be alive this morning. His family is, too, to have him with them still. But there’s nothing to celebrate about a society where a little boy whose face has been torn apart by a bullet from an assault rifle is called “lucky” because he isn’t dead, a society in which a family is considered fortunate because they are mourning only their uncle and not their son as well. All of us on this site right now are lucky, too. You might have crunched down a little toast with peanut butter earlier, and if you did, you might have thought about how lucky you are that you are able to chew. Maybe you got a message from a loved one last night. Reading it, maybe it occurred to you that Alexis could as easily have been employed in any building in the country.

Indeed, all of us are lucky simply because unlike Alexis’s victims, we have the privilege of experiencing the miracle called consciousness for yet another day. Since you woke up, you got to hear the coffee pot percolating and the bus going by. Whatever your favorite flavor of toothpaste is, you got to brush your teeth with it. These ordinary facts of life are filled with meaning when the news is so full of death.

I am feeling lucky to be alive this morning, to be sure, but I feel that way for all the wrong reasons.

For those who are grieving, meanwhile, it must be strange that the rest of us in this city return to our routines so quickly. The buses are still running. The Nationals keep playing baseball. Obama is trash-talking Boehner again. People will go on getting married, getting drunk, getting tofu and Grape Nuts at the grocery store. If it helps at all, the gradual return of normal life does not mean that we have collectively forgotten about what happened here on Monday. Nor have we necessarily forgotten about any of the others who have died because of how violent our society is, nor are we satisfied with the way things are.

There are probably people reading this who feel that now is not a good time to talk about gun control. A few months after the massacre at Sandy Hook last year, Rand Paul told a group of reporters that Obama was “politicizing” the children’s deaths. “It is largely a mistake to talk about issues in the wake of crisis, in the wake of tragedy,” he said. On the contrary, when a tragedy happens, it would be more disrespectful ignore the issues, as though we didn’t care enough, say, about the actual deaths of a dozen innocent people to let them affect how we think about firearms legislation. Mike Grunwald made this point neatly after the shooting in Aurora, Colo. more than a year ago:

There is nothing wrong with politicizing tragedy. The talking heads don’t like it, because they think of politics as a silly game about who sang out of tune and whose words can be used against them and whose surrogate undercut whose message, but politics is about life and death and human suffering. At least that’s what it should be about. … “Obamacare” and “gay marriage” are not just issues that might play badly with swing voters or turn the tide in Virginia; they’re issues that affect people’s lives. Gun control and the Second Amendment are issues, too, and now seems like a pretty good time to talk about them.

The violence at the Navy Yard was a horrible thing. Talking about gun control is a way of confronting the actual suffering of that day and acknowledging our real moral obligation to try to save other people from the same pain, even if we can’t bring back the people who died this week.

As Grunwald suggests, this is true of politics in general. The world is not a kind place at all for most of us. Politics is about looking for ways to improve our situation, and for that reason, it is (at its best) a genuine and mature response to the inescapable, ubiquitous fact of human suffering. That’s why I’m writing this web log this morning, and I hope you’ll continue reading through today and tomorrow.

Next, I’ll consider whether anything might have stopped Aaron Alexis from obtaining a shotgun.

Max Ehrenfreund is a former Monthly intern and a reporter at The Washington Post. Find him on Twitter: @MaxEhrenfreund

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