When horrible things happen I want to circle the wagons. I want to take the people I love and hold them next to me. I begin to imagine a new life where I take my children to the highest loneliest mountain cabin to keep them away from the world, or at least the world of humans.
The day of the Newtown shootings we were packing our bags to go downtown, to see the Christmas tree at Daley Plaza. I spent the day with a hole in my heart and a fake smile on my face trying to make our trip fun and breezy. It was meant to be a time for my two boys to explore the marvel of Chicago, the wonder of what can happen when millions of people come together to build and create. I hid in my heart the knowledge that just one stranger coming together with one small safe school could destroy, could obliterate everything. I don’t want my children to know that.
Today I dropped them off at camp and am relieved for a few hours to grieve for Orlando, away from having to explain why I am grieving. I am not hiding them away from the world, but I am hiding them away from the hateful things I have seen, read and heard. There is a deep pit of disgust in my stomach knowing that there are people in my own country who have said, of innocent people being murdered, that because they were gay they deserved to die. I am scared for my Muslim friends and neighbors who must have heard the identity of the shooter with a horrified gasp, knowing that they would be put on trial for crimes they did not commit. I am furious that a Republican “friend” is almost gleeful that the shooter was a registered Democrat because that “proves” something. I am enraged that people who want to restrict gun control laws are now saying, “This guy was on an FBI watch list and we didn’t stop him?” Our government’s hands are tied, we cannot block even highly suspicious people from access to guns because that might restrict the rights of responsible gun owners; the CDC is not even allowed to study what might possibly cause so many gun-related deaths because Congress will not allow it. We aren’t allowed to even mention limiting access to military grade guns or extending background checks, because, we are told, it is a slippery slope and all guns would be pried out of citizens’ hands. If we suggest ugly homophobia may have contributed to this, we are pushing some sort value-diluting agenda. I want to scream. I don’t want my children to see me scream.
Because I want to have a plan when I see them again.
I want to review what I have tried to instill in my boys. Have I taught them to celebrate love and to be as wary of hate as of a rattlesnake? Have I made sure to teach them to love people both similar and dissimilar to them? Have I told them that when horrible things happen people are scared and want that fear to subside-which means they may hurt people in an effort to feel safe themselves? Have I taught them that people are capable of horrors, and that stemming those horrors is often the responsibility and duty of ordinary people bearing witness and being a force for good? Have I taught them that we should grieve, but we cannot let grief overwhelm us because our ability to make the world a better place would be stunted? Have I taught them that they matter, and that what they do day in and day out can change the course of history? That drops of kindness in a bucket, once enough have gathered, will spill over and cleanse us all? Have I taught them to speak up, and taught them that it is hard work to do so, and that hard work is often necessary in life?
If I have not done these things, I haven’t done enough to help. I need to make a plan to teach them these things. This is my path forward, the only thing that keeps me from hiding myself and hiding them so far away that no one can touch them. A life without being touched by another human being isn’t a real life. We have to figure out how to live in this world one way or another.