Mourners gather in Orlando Monday. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

I was driving into Chicago Monday morning, as WBEZ tried to bring as much light as heat to the slaughter in Orlando. A caller named Ben came on the air to speak to the host of Morning Shift, Tony Sarabia, and I recognized light.

“I just wonder when people are going to get tired of praying,” said Ben. “You know these things happen, and we pray, and, you know, it doesn’t work. If we pray and act, then we’ve acted, but if we pray and continue to do nothing, then all we’ve done is nothing. Praying does not help us solve problems. We can feel better but it doesn’t result in any consequences.”

In Ben’s reflections, I recognized an America I’ve about given up on. It’s an America where people talk to each other and get things done, where problems are things people agree on, tackle, and solve, often in concert with other people they have serious disagreements with.

Prayer without action is a suffocating fatalism. It’s surrendering to the will of Allah, if you’ll excuse me.

But Ben was right. Congress will pray and do nothing. Individual Americans like me will reflect on being more shocked by the 2012 shooting during The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, when 12 persons lost their lives, than they were by the carnage at the Pulse, where 50 died. They will wonder what is happening to them.

“What sort of action would you like to see?” Sarabia asked.

“Congressional action,” said Ben, “where gun control advocates and gun rights advocates sit down and they negotiate. ‘Like, hey, what can you give up?’ ‘What can you give up? What can you live with?’ That’s how people settle disputes. We don’t settle disputes by screaming at each other. We settle disputes by sitting down and figuring out what would be mutually acceptable.”

Ben was asking for a crisis to be responded to the old-fashioned way, by doing something about it. These days, whatever the crisis is we mostly feel hopeless—which has the double-barreled effect of making the crisis look even bigger than it is and yet at the same time, because we know we won’t make any attempt to solve it, reduces it to a lamentable chronic condition, like diabetes, that we learn to live with. 

Earlier, Sarabia talked to Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois’s Second District. He asked Kelly if Orlando was a “wake-up call” for Congress. She doubted it. She gave him a list of what she thought were pretty good bills—some of them her own—to bring guns under some measure of control, but none had ever been called to the floor for a vote. “All we do is stand up for moments of silence,” she said. “We stand up, we sit down. And we do nothing. And I don’t stand up any more.”

“Remind us why,” said Sarabia. “I want to pay respect through action,” she told him. “We have to make changes if we don’t want this to happen.”

Maybe Washington is simply as paralyzed as it wants to be. Listening to Kelly and Ben, and to the many other Chicagoans Sarabia brought onto the air to mourn and discuss Orlando, I had a picture of loud voices trying to wake dead souls.