I ate lunch at work on Saturday afternoon, scrolling through social media coverage of the shooting in El Paso, Texas. For the first time, I appreciated that the TVs in my hospital only show upcoming health classes, support groups, and physician introductions. I ate breakfast at home on Sunday morning, scrolling through social media coverage of the shooting in Dayton, Ohio. I didn’t turn on the TV.
In Vermont, we have few gun laws and statistically very few gun-related incidents; those that happen are more likely to be hunting accidents than violent crime. Especially since we live out in the woods, most homes have guns. This is taken as simple fact, one that I am still getting used to.
I am extremely uncomfortable around firearms. I’m originally from southeastern Massachusetts. My first exposure to firearms wasn’t until I was 20 and working as an EMT in the neighborhoods surrounding Boston. Gunshot victims were relatively uncommon for the metro area where I worked; most trauma was from car accidents and stabbings. It wasn’t until I worked as a paramedic in and around Buffalo, NY where I truly began to witness what bullets can do to the human body.
I realized this morning that the Columbine shootings happened twenty years ago.
I was 12 years old when two angry young men opened fire inside their school. I went into high school with a class that believed it would never happen again, certainly not to them. That belief stuck, until the shooting at Virginia Tech.
This one hit home. Now 21, I was the same age as the victims; I was in college, and my communication platforms were screaming with the news. Emails from the school, friends on AOL and Facebook, family calling my cell phone. The coverage was overwhelming, but you could still close your clunky laptop and turn off your phone. There came a point where I had to.
The country said, never again.
Politicians called for thoughts and prayers, and some for action. Mass killings increased, no longer only the plight and problem of war-torn countries, where our bombs and airstrikes turned cities to rubble and hospitals to understaffed medical tents. We as a society could no longer blindly believe that these were isolated events that could not happen to us.
Newtown, Connecticut: an elementary school. Aurora, Colorado: a movie theatre. San Bernardino, California: a workplace holiday party. Orlando, Florida: a gay bar. Las Vegas, Nevada: a concert. Parkland, Florida: a high school. Churches. Synagogues. Malls. Concerts. Marathons. Hospitals.
My hospital holds drills with local first responders and runs internal annual training to prepare for an active shooter situation. After a narrowly avoided school shooting in our county, children too learn to run, hide, fight.
This is the world I am bringing my child into.
Will my little one be taught to stand on toilets in bathroom stalls? Will she play the “quiet game,” knowing the consequences are dire? Will she learn a nursery rhyme designed to remind her of what to do when a gunshot rings out?
I am so happy to be pregnant again, even as we continue to grieve Oscar. But I also find myself wracked with guilt on mornings like this; over thirty people are dead and more injured in two shootings in two states less than 24 hours apart, not to mention the shooting less than a week ago. There are times where this world feels poisoned. Maybe the hole in the ozone layer grew and grew and swallowed all the atmosphere while we were busy using the internet as an endless playground, and now violence and apathy saturate the very air we breathe; and we are too busy becoming voyeurs and exhibitionists of each other’s online lives to notice the toxicity.
This is not the world I want my child to know; the senseless and endless violence, the politician’s more afraid to be wrong and voted out than to take even a modicum of action, the constant barrage of tragedy and horror that attacks our synapses.
I don’t have an answer to the cruelty. I don’t have a solution to systemic racism, bigotry, and hatred. What I have is fear, tempered brightly with hope.
I have a chance to bring a child into this world who comes from a family where loss hits hard, one who honors those who have gone before us. A family that remembers and teaches history from the perspectives of those who have endured it, not just the writers of the glossy-paged textbooks. We have a chance to teach our child the radical notions of compassion, tolerance, and acceptance. That hope streams bright as the morning sun, even as the darkest days dawn for families in El Paso, Dayton, and all over the world. We will show this child the sunlight, and teach her about the dark, so that one day she may also raise her voice against the bloodshed and work to heal the world.