I grew up practicing drills in school. The alarm would sound and we would all scramble to the floor, hunch under our desks, knees bunched up, and our arms over our heads. Air raid drills for the next event of nuclear war fare.I grew up with the real potential for mass killing. Any day it was possible.
Nuclear testing took place not far from where I grew up, the winds blowing from the western desert region of Utah carried the residue of toxic, cancer causing, waste. The potential for a nuclear bomb was real to us.
Then the drill practices and that kind of thinking stopped. I don't remember when, how, or why. Maybe it's because I moved away from the west? When I was ten we moved to Wisconsin. When I was fourteen we moved to Texas. Then, when I was fifteen my family moved to Chicago, a city that became my home for forty years.
The first twenty-some years I lived in Chicago I took public transportation everywhere. I would ride buses and trains late at night and early in the morning. I was pick-pocketed, trailed by "crazy" and encountered men, sitting next to me, jerking off.
But for the most part thousands of human beings piled onto buses and trains and walked down streets together, went into huge shopping malls and office buildings, airports and airplanes, and schools, all trusting that we were safe. Trusting that, for some reason, no one was going to do something horrible like pull out a gun and shoot us all. Or poison the water or spray us with poison gas.
I remember being aware of this and feeling rather astonished that we lived in a world where civility was such that no one every acted out, no mass killings occurred. Still, some days I would climb the stairs to the "El" or up the bus steps and wonder, "Could this be the day?"
More often, however, I felt something almost like awe. Awe that each day all these people would come together, complete strangers and go about our business and be safe. We would go through our day, maybe a word would be exchanged, maybe a conversation, maybe not. But we, the communal "we" ended each day safe.
No doubt I always felt at risk as an individual. I always knew I could be robbed, or shot, or raped, and killed. That was a fact that kept my eyes open and my guard up. Something like this could happen to any one any time.
But whole schools, rooms, offices, buses full of us, all at once?
No. That didn't happen...even though I wondered about the fragility of it all, the trust it took to be in public and know that we human beings were all living an unspoken agreement - we will not hurt one another.
I think these were the days before semi-automatic weapons became available to the general public. The late 1970's through the early 1990's.
I grew up in the west. Everyone had (has) guns. Guns are vital to life. When I moved back to the west everyone told us to buy a gun. For rattle snakes and Javelina and mountain lion and coyotes. We would need one. We didn't buy a gun, but I thought about it. The wild life scared me. But guns scare me more.
When I moved to Wisconsin I was in the fifth grade. There, at both the end of the year camping trip and the summer Girl Scout camp I learned to shoot a bow and arrow and how to load and shoot a rifle. Target practice was a daily "sport."
I grew up in a house where my mother said, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." My mother worried about police states. Communism and McCarthyism were real to her. If my mother were alive and read "The Hunger Games" series she'd probably think the second amendment would protect us from ever entering into that kind of state.
My mother's words are formed inside of me. My childhood experiences leave me cautious about gun control. And yet, in my core, I hate guns. I'm not sure I could use one to save my life. I hope I never have to know the answer.
So, I have no idea what the solution is to the problem of mass shootings in our country.
I do think the problem is huge and complex and will require more than legislation on gun control and mental health. I think we have a problem that is affecting our health. Why do we have children who display irrational, violent behavior? I know a number of parents struggling - just as this mom.
Some of the kids I know who behave this way were adopted, and had bad experiences in the orphanage. Not abuse, but neglect. Some of the kids live in their biological households with highly attuned educated parents who work hard at intervention, but the struggle remains, just like the mom above.
Is it the additives and preservatives and artificial color and flavorings we use? Is it plastic? Is it too much stimuli to violence on television, video games, and movies? Is it access to guns and semi-automatic weapons? Is it lack of sufficient adequate mental health care? Do we really need to create a paper trail, have our kids carried away by the police and locked in the psych unit (yes, sometimes parents do need to do this). But why?
What is going on?
The fragile trust I had for a time is gone. Every day I wonder what and how next. The grocery store? The hair salon or spa? The church or synagogue or mosque or any house of worship? The train, bus, airplane? School?
Twenty eight people, including the shooter and his mother died last week. A young, tormented soul took all these lives. We will probably never know why. That same day twenty people were shot in Chicago. And across the world thousands of women and children are raped and killed each day.
The problem is bigger than we think.
I have no idea what the answer is.
No. That's not true. Part of the answer lies in each of us.
Part of the answer means we take a good hard look at how we live our lives and what we can do differently. Boycott violent television programs and movies? Boycott movies and television programs where the "bad guy" is a person of dark skin and hair - Arabic or black or Mexican or Middle Eastern? Even the police ones, all of them? Take action to love and care for others. Help to balance the extreme difference between the wealthy and the poor. Work to ensure that all people have access to adequate food, shelter, clothing, education, health care, clean water, and a means to earn a living wage. Gun control, certainly banning semi-automatic weapons can help. Adequate, affordable mental health care can help. But it's more than that.
God shows up in these disasters and tragedies. We might miss that if we aren't looking. God shows up in the coming together of humanity to care for others. (See the New York Times for articles on the "coming together of the community of Newtown...and other related responses to tragedy and disaster).
And so the thing is, legislation can help. But it's more than that. It's up to us. How we choose to live our lives. We need to live each day with the compassion and care that is manifested after a disaster or tragedy. Why wait?
Let's do it all the time. Let's care for strangers and friends and family alike. Not just as a response to tragedy, but always.It's a fragile trust we maintain, but one whose bonds can grow stronger if the trust is founded on care and compassion and accountability to ourselves and our neighbor.