On Violence

We live in Colorado, the Columbine shooting in the adjacent suburb, a recent site of random shooter violence at a grocery store, and now, more. But this isn’t about details; it’s about the fact that violence doesn’t seem to be going away. Rather, it’s become a collective sigh and then background noise for the news cycle.

Maybe it’s unamerican to admit fear because of our revolutionary past. But we are entrenched now, and I am afraid. I nightmare, I watch. My forehead wrinkles crease more deeply in certain shared spaces.

Since my kids don’t attend a public school, they don’t have to endure active shooter drills. But I realized having no context might make them overly stupefied – not that they wouldn’t have a perfect right to freeze – and unable to act in a lifesaving way. How to broach this weird, scary world without instilling a potentially crippling fear of other people? I decided to focus on the visuals.

My kids notice every detail when we’re out in the world. Whether someone has Frosted Flakes or the knockoff. Who’s got mismatched socks. A person walking funny, maybe a limp, maybe a cane. We discuss every little variance, and it feels like those old activity pages in Highlights Magazine where you’d pick out which things are the same, which different.

“If you see someone walking around with a gun in their hand, you run away,” I told my son last week. He’s 10. I’m terrified he’d prefer to see the gun close up. He’s watched so many YouTube videos of hunters, teens and adults, intrigued by the idea of guns and how they work.

“Why?” he asks.

I am brief. “You’re not supposed to see someone’s gun in public. If you can, there might be a problem. Tell people nearby that you see a gun, if you can, then run and hide.” I keep repeating the “run” part. Gun=run.

“But why would I even see one?”

“Yesterday someone brought their gun to a grocery store.”

“Oh no! What is the world coming to? Who would do that?”

His reaction sounded like any rational being’s, also a grandparent’s. It’s so tender. But I want him to run this information through the filter of what I’ve just told him. He did not ask, and I did not offer, if anyone was hurt. I let him digest this portion of his uncomfortable news, knowing he’ll likely return with questions later. He’s a slow, methodical processor.

“Why are you telling me this?” he asks, finally.

“Because you’re a noticer, and this is important for you to notice. And then react in a way that keeps you safe,” I tell him.

I hope it will save your life, I do not say. People are crazy, I do not say.

I hug him and wish this was not a topic I needed to add into his web of worries. Remember all the of worries in your 10-year-old mind? An overlapping series of woes, fears and quibbles, regularly updated. I feel only slightly better.

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