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15 Feb 2018 As I Slept


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel,

My name is Nicholas Marx and I would like to share with you a few influential moments of my gap year, and their broader context in world events. As a fellow Kentuckian and a loyal adversary, I feel like these experiences may help you focus on the issues in our country that matter most. 

Let me start at the beginning.

Coarse sand, muffled only partially by the many flimsy mats, edged its way between my toes. The music blared as my new relatives filed in for our Sunday recitations of the Quran. Men, women, children alike, crammed together around my host brother and his friends, listening intensely to their hymn. Retreated and withdrawn to the back, I took a breathe. This, my first day in my home stay, had been one of panic and confusion and longing, but now, thought had been forced away by the lyrical prayers in Arabic. Though overwhelmed and anxious, I sat, trying my best to focus to that which I did not understand, until the prayers gave way to dinner and, soon after, an invitation to rest. I accepted this invitation, retreating to my rooftop abode, unlocking the metal door, and collapsing on the floor bound mattress as consciousness faded into sleep.

And as I slept, in the Texas suburb of Plano, far away from my newfound Senegalese home, friends gathered to cheer on the Dallas Cowboys in the home of Meredith Lane, when her estranged husband entered, touting an AR-15 semi-automatic rife, a shotgun, and .38 caliber revolver. Spencer Hight fired, killing his former wife and seven others. In comments after he was shot by law enforcement, Police Chief Greg Rushin expressed his shock, saying “We’ve never had a shooting of this magnitude; never had this many victims.” The day was Sunday, September 10th, 2017.*

Or did you already forget?

Another moment then. 

It was finally October. I had made it a month in Senegal. The endless days of miscommunication, of feeling overwhelmed every time I stepped in Thiés, of being lost in language class, had taken their toll, but there I was, ironing clothes with my host mom, struggling to converse in basic Wolof. With every, “I don’t understand,” my mom would laugh, smile, and scream again that I needed to dampen the clothes first with water before ironing if I didn’t want the entire house to catch on fire. Minutes hit double digits before I finally understood, grabbing the sprayer next to the clothes as my host mom affirmed me with a “Waaawkaaay.”

And as I ironed, 22,000 concertgoers gathered under the the glow of the Las Vegas skyline, watching eagerly as Jason Aldean, a country musician performing at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, bellowed the lyrics to “When She Says Baby.” An interruption, a torrent of gunfire, silences Aldean as he rushes off stage. Panic ensues, the crowd disperses. Some drop to the ground while others run for cover as the lone gunman continued to fire, perched in his hotel room away from the crowd. 17 agonizing minutes of chaos ensue, bullets still flying from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, law enforcement struggling to locate the shooter as the firing stops. 59 people lay dead, 441 more injured from the 23 weapon arsenal, which included a fully automatic, the gunman had in his hotel room. Later, reports show that this shooting was one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. The day was Sunday, October 1st, 2017.*

Or did you already forget that too?

Maybe one more then. 

As January began to run its course, I returned to my host family on a brisk Tuesday evening after an exhaustingly thrilling trip in the Kedegou region of Senegal. The endless trails, the mountain climbs, and the freezing jumps into the Cascade de Dindefellow had left me tired yet beaming. Through improved Wolof, I narrated the entire trip to my little siblings, explaining how my friends and I traveled first to Dakar then the National Park in hopes of seeing wildlife before finally arriving in Dindefellow. They nodded in pace with every sentence, interjecting often with questions about lions and waterfalls and monkeys. Impressed by my photos and my tales, Maame Fatou, my younger host sister, murmured, “Why did you come back if it was so nice there?” 

“Cause I missed you all,” I reply, realizing that my host family has become actual family. 

And as I realized this, in our home state of Kentucky, alarms were sounding in Marshall County High School. A teenager, disgruntled and dismayed, had entered the school armed with a handgun. Before class had even started, shots were heard, piercing the chatter of the common area. Chaos and mad fleeing ensued as the 15 year old shooter turned and continued firing his pistol into the crowd, ultimately killing 2 students and maiming 18 others before he was detained. The day was Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018.*

Or did you forget that too?

You couldn’t have forgotten the shooting in Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida that happened so recently, could you? You couldn’t have yet forgotten the faces of those high school students terrified and distraught or the faces of the parents, weeping and worried their child may not return home. You couldn’t have yet forgotten the 17 lives that were ended so prematurely and the 15 others that were injured. It’s not possible that you could’ve forgotten the footage of gunshots originating from an AR-15 like weapon ripping through classrooms. You didn’t yet forget them, did you?

I ask this because, when you enter that Capital Building, you forget. You forget the suffering, the pain, the hardship to easily when you vote on legislation that would attempt to break this strain of shootings. You remember only how much the NRA is giving you and your fellow Republicans to remain in office. You don’t seem to understand that, from the day I stepped on a plane to Senegal, September 3rd of 2017, to February 14th, 229 people have died and over 943 have suffered because of your inactions.* You forget all this, as if you were thousands of miles away in Senegal instead of me. 

But, even I haven’t forgotten. My year abroad is masked in this destruction. I can’t forget. So I won’t let  you forget either. 

Every moment you let slip in your ignorance leads to more undue suffering, more families ripped apart, more grief. You have a moral responsibility to prevent this from ever happening again. 

Start doing your job. Pass Gun Control Legislation.

This is not a partisan issue anymore. This is life or death.

Nicholas Marx


* Sources:

“Florida School Shooting: ‘No Words’ as 17 Die in a Barrage of Bullets,”  14 February, 2018 A.Burch and P. Mazzei

“A Burst of Gunfire, a Pause, Then Carnage in Las Vegas That Would Not Stop,” 2 October, 2017, K. Belson, J. Medina, and R. Pérez-Peña

Friends Remember Victims of Plano Mass Shooting: ‘Full of Love’” 11 September, 2017, A. Lucia

“School Shooting in Kentucky Was Nation’s 11th of the Year. It was Jan. 23.” 23 January, 2018, D. Victor and A. Blinder 

Mass Shooting,” Gun Violence Archive, Statistics from September 3rd to February 14th



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