Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Shooting Too Close

Yesterday a 15 year-old boy was shot and killed just outside Roslyn's school. According to the latest reports, he was an innocent bystander, a "good kid" in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is sad and absolutely heartbreaking. The tragedy has sent a tsunami of fear and sorrow and anger throughout our community. My Facebook feed is now full of posts from friends, parents with kids at Classical, expressing their sorrow for the family, worry about their children's safety, and relief that they came home from school yesterday. We are all scared and sad. It was too close, way too close.

Earlier this morning, I found myself involved in a Facebook conversation where some people were talking about this incident as a "school shooting," and I felt compelled to clarify, to point out that this wasn't like Parkland or Columbine. This wasn't a crazed maniac entering a school armed with assault rifles and opening fire. This happened on the street, in front of a school, during a fight, with a handgun, one shot fired. This is in so many ways NOT a school shooting. Or is it?

I started to question why I felt the need to point out the distinction. Why was I so uncomfortable with it being talked about as a "school shooting"? Like everyone, I'm still processing what happened, but maybe I was triggered because I cannot even begin to allow myself to entertain the possibility of an actual school shooting happening so close to home. Maybe if I focus on all the ways this ISN'T a school shooting, that it's not some random evil act by a lunatic with machine guns, maybe then it's not quite so scary. But unfortunately, it is that scary. It really is. Because when it comes to the possibility of losing your child, it doesn't matter how.

People talk about this incident as "every parent's worst nightmare" -- and it is. I know that it is. But what does that mean really? Haven't I also lived "every parent's worst nightmare"? Eleven years ago, I put my happy, healthy toddler to bed one night and she never woke up. No warning, no explanation. Where is the outrage? Where is the outpouring of calls for research funding to find out why thousands of children each year die suddenly without any explanation?

It's because it defies comprehension. We can look at this boy's tragic death and get angry that politicians continue to do absolutely nothing time after time, or that we don't have enough resources to help our troubled youth. You can point a finger and identify a culprit and place blame and that makes it just a bit easier to get angry and feel a little bit less helpless. 

When I heard about the shooting yesterday, I instantly burst into tears. Rationally I knew Classical was on lockdown and Roslyn had to be safe. (Right? She had to be...) But irrationally, I felt that I could not survive losing a second child. I know what it feels like and it would literally kill me.

There's a saying that when we have children, it's like having a piece of our heart walking around outside of our bodies. It's true. When your child dies, your heart is forever broken. As a "bereaved parent" (that's what we're called because the English language doesn't actually have a word for us like "orphan" or "widow/widower"), I'm now reprogrammed to be extra careful, extra vigilant to potential danger -- and extra grateful when my kids come home safe and sound. 

Yesterday's tragedy hit like a sledgehammer reminding me of all the things that are beyond my control. The truth is, we cannot protect our children. It's one of the hardest realities of being a parent. We are helpless, and when you add guns into the scenario, it's downright terrifying. Life is so fragile. Don't take anything or anyone for granted.

I hugged Roslyn extra tight yesterday when she got home. We talked about what happened. She said it was scary during the lockdown. I wish none of us, but especially our children, had to live in a world where the threat of gun violence is an everyday reality. I hope soon, very soon those who are in a position to do something about it will act.   

I am deeply sorry for the family and friends of William Parsons. I'm sorry his parents are now part of the club no one ever wanted to be a member of. But I know after surviving 11 years of grief that somehow we manage to breathe and keep on going. When this tragedy is no longer in the news and everyone has gone back to their regular lives, I hope William's parents know that they are never alone. I hope they know that he will never be forgotten.