I was driving East on the Mass Pike on December 14, 2012. It was quiet, just the rushing noise of cars passing and tires rolling beneath me. Sadness filled me and a flashing thought of my son’s elementary school in Connecticut crossed my mind.
“That school is open to anyone all the time. What if someone walked in and did something terrible? What if?”
I don’t know why that thought on that day in that moment occurred to me. Despite the growing list of attacks like Columbine, Oklahoma City, 9/11, and Virginia Tech, my little town in Connecticut was this special bubble immune to violence. That sort of violence only happened far, far away.
Then I turned on the radio. A shooting in Newtown, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School was in the news. Newtown was an hour away from my son’s elementary school. Instantly, I called my son’s school.
“We are in lock down. Police are present and they will be here through dismissal.”
The following Monday, I volunteered for the first grade gingerbread house project. I helped six-year-old children, the same age as the twenty children who died three days before, build their cookie structures, gluing brittle pieces of gingerbread with sticky frosting.
The kids were excited to work with sugar, sneaking licks and nibbles while talking about their Elf on the Shelves and Santa coming and the vacations to ski or see Mickey Mouse days away.
The other parents and I looked at each other knowingly. How lucky were we? We looked at these little kids, all thinking the same thing, “what if that horror happened at this school, a school that happily had its doors open to all until December 14, 2012.”
We gave out extra hugs and kisses, treasuring these little people still in our lives.
A few months later while returning from April vacation with my son, we drove West on the Mass Pike from Cape Cod. I watched a fleet of National Guard tanks barrel East toward Boston. My son had seen a news clip about the two bombers at the Boston Marathon and everyone at the hotel chatted and speculated in their thick Boston accents why and who. My son asked plenty of questions as well.
“Why did those two guys hurt those people?”
“Because they are very bad and do not like Americans.”
“I don’ know. I guess they don’t like how we live our lives.”
Today my son’s school is locked and we are buzzed in. There is a retired detective manning the door. Our taxes pay his $75,000 salary so he can play on his phone and wander around the school. On Wacky Wednesdays when school ends at 1:30 p.m. the doors are left wide open throughout the afternoon, unmanned so parents can attend teacher conferences. Meanwhile, I walk in late afternoon to collect my son from the YMCA after-school program in the cafeteria and I think, “Why is this school open when there are thirty kids in the cafeteria doing homework?”
Last Wednesday, the news about the fourteen dead in San Bernardino was on television, my son sat playing on his iPod, unconcerned about another shooting, just white noise.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the new “what ifs” in life. What if someone shoots us while we sit on a full train, lumbering down a dark tunnel into Grand Central Station? What if a Starbucks filled with caramel macchiato drinking patrons mooching free wifi get barraged with bullets? What if the plane that is descending suddenly explodes? What if the bridge my car sits on in gridlock, implodes?
Paris and San Bernardino? I am numb to these events. But maybe it is not numbness, just an overwhelming sadness that I have become accustomed to feeling. I am sad at this new normal, this acceptance that this kind of violence is mainstream and that my son and his generation are numb and accepting of this new normal of landmines in their own country.
We have three months of freeze dried Cabela’s food stored in our garage. I was invited to a pistol permit party. My son wants to join the Special Forces when he grows up. Pretty soon Home Depot will be hocking build your own underground doomsday bunker kits with a special 20% discount.
What if there were no bad guys? What if there was no hatred? What if there was no fear? What if there was no numbness? What if?