Hollow Words

for Ben


After Sandy Hook, we told you that you are safe. There are over 33,000 elementary schools in the United States, and there has been a shooting at one.

After you heard about Aurora, we told you that you are safe. Millions of people go to the movies every year, safely. Meanwhile we check emergency exits reflexively during films and plan where to run.

After Orlando, we told you that you are safe.

After Paris, we told you that you are safe.

After Las Vegas, we told you that you are safe.

We told you it was OK to go to concerts and festivals and large outdoor gatherings. We played the numbers game.

It’s more likely that you will
  • Get hit by a car
  • Crash a car
  • Get run over by a bus
  • Fall down the stairs and break your neck
  • Be hit by lightning
  • Lose a fight to a wild animal in the woods

We tried to comfort you and assuage your fear by listing other ways you could die.

It’s more likely you will live to 75 and get to know your grandchildren than get shot by someone in your school, a movie, theater, a club, a concert, your workplace, a synagogue.

As you grow older and you listen to the news and your friends and follow social media, where shootings are turned into memes, our “new math” doesn’t diminish your fear. You see the error in the calculus.

Videos of kids huddled in classrooms look like you and your friends. That could be me, you think.

You drill and drill and drill and lock down and lock down and practice for what we tell you is an infinitesimally small probability.

And when you march in protest, someone puts a sticker on your chest that says #AmINext?

And it scares you.

And it scares me.

You walk up to me with that sticker on you and all I can see is that you might be next and that playing the odds is no way to play this game when the house always wins.

My 16 year old son is scared to go to school.

It’s been 19 years since Columbine.

It’s been 5 years since Sandy Hook.

It’s been too many years that we have been trying to keep the barrage of mass shootings from entering his world. The shootings just kept coming, and his access to the media and the news and his friends kept bringing them into his world, into his mind, and into his psyche.

And his mother keeps telling him that he is safe.

And he says, Mom you keep saying that.

You keep saying that.

You. Keep. Saying. That.

You know who else said that Mom?

Every parent of every kid who died in Florida and Vegas and Paris and San Bernadino and that church in Texas and 100 other places that I can’t even name.

Their moms said to them, you are safe. It won’t happen here.

What do you have to say to me now, Mom?

What do you have to say?

1 comment:

Anne-Marie said...

It is a new reality. I can't imagine what our children, once grown adults and perhaps parents themselves, will think of their school years. And what is this doing collectively to their mental health? We could compare ourselves to places where children walk to school in fear of being killed every day, but that isn't a reassuring or comforting thought, either. All we can really say is that we are working to make change, that we aren't taking it lying down. But this is one of those times when, I believe, there aren't really any good words.