It’s a standing joke among my friends: before my blog post about my mentally ill son went viral, I did not know who Anderson Cooper was.
Let me explain this grave lapse of cultural literacy. After September 11, 2001, I sat in front of our television in slack-jawed horror, watching the towers fall over and over, for weeks. Then one day, I looked away from the TV and saw my four year-old son building a tower out of blocks and crashing his toy airplane into it.
So I gave up television. I didn’t actually mean to give it up completely—I’ve always been an early adopter and figured we would have the content on demand by 2003. My timeline was a few years premature. And by the time technology caught up, I was no longer interested in TV.
Now I get all my news from Facebook. It’s the perfect mix of local (kids, pets, vacations) and national, and since my friends are so clever, I trust them to pick the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and HuffPost articles I should read. In that respect, Facebook has been a real timesaver for me. Okay, I’m not kidding anyone here. Facebook is a complete waste of time. But since I’m not watching “Jersey Shore” or “American Idol” or “Downton Abbey,” I feel okay about it.
Still, it’s become apparent that my Facebook friends aren’t quite clever enough. Because if they were, they would have been as agog over Anderson Cooper as the blurred-face woman in the picture above (she looked like a four year old girl about to meet a Disney Princess).
Cooper is the real deal—whip smart, funny, compassionate, able to shovel through the bullhorn bullshit that passes as public discourse these days and emerge with a squeaky clean smile.
When Anderson Cooper 360 decided to do a town hall meeting on guns, the producer, Kerry Rubin, called and asked me to talk about my experiences as a parent of a mentally ill son.
I couldn’t say no. And it was one of the most amazing and humbling experiences of my life.
I got to meet Amardeep Kaleka, a gun owner whose father was killed in a rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Sarah McKinley, who made headlines when she defended her home and her baby against intruders. Tio Hardiman, who works with Chicago’s youth to try to change potentially destructive behaviors and save lives. And Veronique Pozner, who lost her sweet young son in the tragic Sandy Hook shootings.
Their stories all give nuance and complexity to a debate that too often looks like something drawn by toddlers with crude, bold crayons.
I also met Joshua Boston, the former Marine whose letter to Senator Diane Feinstein about her proposal to ban assault weapons also went viral. Josh is a passionate and articulate spokesperson for gun owners.
I shared a car on the way to the Town Hall with the inimitable Gayle Trotter, an activist, attorney, and mother of six who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about how guns actually make women safer. Gayle is as powerful an advocate for her Second Amendment rights as the Brady Campaign’s president Dan Gross (one of my oldest son’s heroes) is for gun control.
(In case you missed it, I’m not an anarchist—I’m a Libertarian. Not a big fan of laws, generally speaking. But also not a big fan of gun violence and school shootings.)
And I’m not a big fan of former NRA president Sandy Froman’s repeated use of the word “insane” on the program (at least she avoided “deranged” and “evil”). Every time she said it, I winced. Still, thanks to the First Amendment, Froman has every right to use that word, and while I wish she wouldn’t, I am not going to engage in ad hominem attacks (Dan Gross, on the other hand, was consistently respectful to people who suffer from mental disorders).
Highlights of the afternoon included meeting Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Jeffrey Toobin, and watching Kerry Rubin in action—she’s like a conductor who takes raw notes on a score and turns them into a full orchestral suite.
In my own moment on camera, I got one good line in—“Why can’t we use our resources to make people less dangerous?” I don’t really remember the rest of what I said, just that Anderson Cooper’s eyes are really that blue.
In the end, Cooper couldn’t solve the gun problem in one town hall meeting. But he gave a hint at how to solve it when asked which team he favored in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Cooper responded with a grin, “Beyoncé.”
Sometimes when we can’t agree on something important (Ravens or 49’ers, for example), we have to look for something we can agree on. I am grateful to Anderson Cooper and his entire team for an impartial and thoughtful contribution to a vital conversation about guns and mental health, and for including me in that conversation.
It’s not easy to be an advocate, but sometimes our causes find us, even when we don’t expect them. I’m grateful for the opportunity to change a national conversation. Maybe it’s not about guns: maybe it’s about mental health.