Our hearts break when we hear horrible news like the extreme violence that killed and wounded over 60 people last night in the Aurora movie theater. We should break open when we hear of one death or act of extreme brutality and we should live our lives as though each day is our last, because violent crime happens every day. But we don’t, if we have the privilege we put those uncomfortable thoughts on ice. We say “have a good time at the movie, be home by midnight!” as though it’s a given.
There is something extra terrifying when mundane acts, like watching a movie or eating in a food court, are met with mass violence from an apparently unhinged person. It’s deeply unsettling and feels like a shared experience all at the same time.
Ugh. My heart just sank at the news, as yours probably did, at the enormity of it all. Pain felt at innocent lost, so many to be grieved. All of the suffering felt by all those in and near the theater — and the PTSD that will surely haunt many of those who survived. The painful existence of the shooter that brought him to those doors. His poor family. Those who will wonder if they could have prevented this. The many emergency responders and victim advocates (unsung heroes, they are) who drill and practice for such events, hoping never to have to respond, never to have to tend to victims, never to have to contact parents to tell them their young daughter, who just moments before was watching a movie, is now in deep medical peril.
I bet like me, you could imagine yourself in some of those roles, and you felt ill. We see movies. We take our kids to movies. Worse, our teens and young adult kids go to movies on their own. My sons are old enough to have been driving themselves to late night movies for years. Imagine being a parent and learning this news in your town while your teens were out. Or God forbid, receiving that knock on the door, the cold knock you dread as soon as your children begin social or working lives off in the world without you.
It’s all chilling, and this quote in the New York Times article about the massacre cut to the bone:
At Gateway High School, where the authorities have directed people to gather to get news about friends and family members, Rosemary Ratcliff said she had so far been unable to find her son, Abdullah, 17, who she believes had been at the midnight screening.
I am working out-of-town right now, in San Francisco, and my sons are both in Florida. They are both technically adults, each is over 18 and out of high school. But at unsettled times they are my babies, and right now I feel desperate to hug them in a Love You Forever mom way. It’s visceral, this parental need to tap their heads, to smell that they are okay in this big, hard world where life is precious and things happen.
I talked on the phone with my younger son and I tried to help him process it all a bit. We talked about mental illness and guns. We talked about wanting answers, but knowing that laying blame won’t help us feel safe. He remembered that I was out-of-town on 9/11, a few hours from our home in Tallahassee and working in Tampa, and that waiting for me to drive home was the longest day of his childhood. I remember that day as intolerably long, too, of course, and of missing him so much I was dying to smell his hair like he was a baby.
It’s not a whole lot different now. He’s older, and I know he is fundamentally okay. I don’t care how old they get, though, at times I want to fly to the other coast and climb a ladder to peek in their windows to see that my babies are okay. This violence, it tugs at the knees of parents of older kids in a way that is opposite to the way toddlers pulled at them. Life is so precious and precarious. “Travel safe, see you soon,” he said, as we often say to each other. We want to be safe, we want to, I want to and my sons do when we are off in the world, but today we remember it isn’t always in our hands.
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