I am afraid for my life. Not because I live in a place where natural disaster is likely to strike. Nor because I am a victim of war.
I am terribly afraid for the life of my husband. Not only because he is a black man in America.
I am afraid for my daughter. Not only because she might someday have a drink too many in the company of a promising swimmer looking for “twenty minutes of action” on her college campus.
I am paralyzed by fear for my son. Not only because he is my soul’s most enduring mate. Not only because he, too, will soon be a black man in America. Not only because he will always be “different,” as people like to say when they intend not to offend.
Every night, I go to bed grateful that we are all still alive. Not because there is any reason we shouldn’t be.
But every day, I live in terror.
I browse the page commemorating one of the twenty children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. I look at her photos, read her mother’s words, ask for forgiveness for everything I didn’t do to keep her alive. I know there are others, thousands of other pages commemorating thousands of other people who were gunned down. Not because they were enemies of state. Nor because they had done anything remotely deserving of having their lives taken away, and so brutally. But I look at Ana’s page, every day. Her family looks like ours. She was as beautiful, full of life, and promising as my daughter. Like my son does with his little sister, so did Ana’s older brother dote on her, looking at her so kindly, so lovingly, while they sang and danced in the living room of their home, on a safe street, in one of he safest places in America, perhaps in all the world. Ana was killed in her classroom. Wearing a shirt with a peace sign, which stuck to her body, holed, and drenched in six-year-old blood. How does her mother breathe? It must be for her son. Every day for the rest of her life, with her every breath, in her every smile, she will mourn the loss of her girl. Not because she was raising her children in a place torn by war. Nor because a tornado tore through their town.
Thoughtful and cautious as I try to be, I can’t protect my children from bullets fired in a classroom, a movie theater, perhaps a park. While searching for schools for my children, I looked at the windows. How easy would they be to break? I looked at the entrances. How difficult would it be for someone who doesn’t belong to get inside? I looked through classroom door windows to see if there were parts of the room, out of sight, where children could hide. A few times, I have thought, what if the lockdown drills about which we roll our eyes at work become the thing that saves our lives, should someone come for us with a machine gun while we’re learning how to use the periodic table, the Pythagorean theorem, speak up for justice, read, write, question authority, heed the lessons of the past, fight for peace? Not because we have an enemy we expect to come for us. Nor because anything about our school makes us a particularly tempting target.
Although I see my children’s safety as my foremost duty as their mother, I fail to find a way to be present in every moment, in every place where there might be someone with a rifle that was made to cover dozens of bodies with hundreds of holes. I can’t think of a way to shield my children’s bodies from the bullets that are flying everywhere these days. Just today, I read an article about a mother of three who died shielding her children from bullets. Not because the shooter had any reason to take this woman’s or her children’s lives. This mother saved all three of her children today. She did what every mother would. But no mother can be everywhere her children are, all the time.
They say Sandy Hook and Aurora happened because of mental illnesses that had gone untreated for too long.
They say Pulse happened because of someone’s faith in killing those who offend a god whose very essence killing annihilates.
They say these massacres were born of hate, intolerance, lack of faith, too much faith, poor upbringing, poverty, inadequate healthcare, broken families.
But none of these massacres would have happened if the people who committed them didn’t have access to military caliber artillery.
In a time and place of peace, of freedom from war, we live in terror of losing our lives and loved ones to bullets. No one is safe. All our children go to schools, to movie theaters, to malls, to parks. And we are not always there to absorb flying bullets into our own bodies, so our children can live.
Whose children have to be gunned down for this terror to cease, for us to live in peace?
We could be the grieving mothers whose pages strangers browse tomorrow to offer comfort, condolences, to wish for a peace we’ll never find. It could be us tomorrow. Not because there is any reason for us to matter so little.