The safe place?
Sometimes the sadness is too much. I turn off the phone and lock the door and light a candle or two and cry. The world seems small and scary and I am suddenly afraid, "of ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night…." And men (and now women) who are armed and willing to kill …anyone. Soldiers, children, disabled people, concert goers, church leaders, movie lovers, club attendees, diners, folks seeking health care, children in school and their teachers, politicians. There is, it seems, no category where one is safe.
There seems to be no reason or logic or pattern or thread to the killings — other than guns. There are always guns. Multiple guns used on children in a school and ministers inside a church and folks enjoying a holiday party. We have not wanted to say out loud, "we are at war inside our own country," because our enemy isn’t a single country or ideology. It is not something with a head and a name and a mission. Sometimes the enemy (most often in this country) is a single male in a hoodie — a loner who is white — who is living out some sick game scenario or revenge scenario or simply hatred-filled scenario. And sometimes the shooter is The Other. Whoever The Other is to you. Different skinned or gendered or religion or politics — it all is so confusing. Who is the Us? Who is the They? And why is the killing becoming common?
There is righteous anger, and denial, and fear. You can smell it and taste it but like a gas you can’t usually see it until it is changing elemental form right before you. And the air takes on properties that have combined with something else and then the explosion is quick and powerful and far reaching.
This time at the holiday party in the place for disabled folks there was a new element added. This time, a young mother left her infant with a relative and strapped on an assault weapon to join her husband in killing. And within minutes, really, more than a dozen people of a variety of ages and faiths and genders were killed, it appears for little more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time — a holiday party.
It has been just two weeks, too little time to mourn those killed who were attending a rock concert or dining outdoors on a lovely fall evening in Paris. No time really, less than a week, to feel the sadness of those who were seeking health care in a clinic in Colorado, and mourn the young officer/part-time pastor there, who was killed trying to save them from a lone white older male, spouting gibberish. And now this… and those of us who have children and grandchildren, who work with children, teach children, love children have no words to soothe their fears. We cannot say with any assurance "that would never happen here." Because we have no idea anymore if it could or would. No idea.
And so for some, the level of fear rises each day and becomes slightly paralyzing when mapping out activities. Should we enter the crowded mall, movie theater, church, concert, exposed cafe, healthcare facility? Dizzying. Where is safe? What is safe? If every minute is precious and fragile what does normal look like?
And when you set aside the fear and focus on the grief and respect and mourning, survivors guilt — unreasonable as it may be — sets in. Why that church? Those children, in that school? Those folks at the concert, the cafe? They are no different from my family except by a place on a day in time, they were in the wrong place, and there was no indication the gas was leaking there, about to explode. None in that holiday party, that a young mother would show up in battle gear and use an assault weapon to murder.
So this holiday season, this advent, we light candles against the darkness because it’s the one thing we know to do. We gather those closest to us and remind them fear never serves a people well. We know, we do, people who can so randomly destroy life have no respect for it, are filled with self-hate and fears of their own. And when we want to lock the doors and stay safe inside, we have learned that are no doors or locks where hate cannot find a way in.
So against the darkness and fear we must do the one thing that seems small and insignificant — we must love each other. Every day. We must embrace The Others. And remember the times/situations where we are The Other. We must find our common humanity and celebrate it in song and laughter and with unbridled joy. We must find help for those struggling with mental illnesses and we must pray in whatever tongue is holy to make loving a kind of invisible shield around us. And a kind of X-ray vision. We will seek the tiniest part that seeks to be loved in the unlovable and we will love anyway. Any way we can. It costs us nothing to do this, except our fear. Which has no place here. Not even this week, this Sunday, in the Park….
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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