On September 16th, there was a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in S.E. A great deal of the nation’s citizens stayed glued to the T.V. and watched with anxiety as the chaos unfolded and conflicting reports as to the death count and the number of shooters flashed across the bottom of the screen. I spent the day in much the same way but unlike many of the nation’s citizens I was directly affected by the tragedy. My husband, Isaac, works at the yard and has for over five years now. From time to time, I have been concerned about his weekly visits to the Pentagon, thinking that it was a much bigger target. And, needless to say as the unthinkable happened, I spent most of my morning in front of the T.V. but not just as a concerned American but more so as a wife. Even though I knew he was okay, since he was texting me sporadically from his shelter in place location, I was still a total wreck and all I could focus on was physically laying my hands on him and actually feeling that he was alive and well. I tried my best to distract myself: walking the dog, working in the garden, planning my teaching lessons for the next day, writing articles for my marketing gig. But, I could not get away from it as family and friends bombarded me with concern and well-wishes via social media and text. At the end of the day when I finally got him back, I was acutely aware that there were wives and husbands, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, who were not so lucky as I. There were 12 people who woke up that day, went to work and never made it home.
The day felt akin to September 11th to me. At that time, I was in graduate school in Monroe, La and pregnant with my first child. I remember watching the news all day in an abandoned classroom with my grad student cohorts. What really stayed with me then and now was the continued playing of footage of people jumping from the twin towers: jumping away from one death to embrace another.
For me, 9/11 was one of the first nationally tragic events that I remember from my adult life and now, a mere 12 years later, Americans are still fighting the war on terror but fail to see that there is a much greater war at home as the number of mass shootings by Americans against other Americans increases each year. I think, in many ways, we have Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris to thank for that as the Columbine High School Massacre was one of the largest and brutal shootings of its kind when it occurred in 1999. Of course, since then the Sandy Hook tragedy exceeded Columbine in fatalities with 20 children and 5 adults killed, solidifying our new American reality.
When I think about Columbine, I think about the establishment of a new precedent. Since the shooting on April 20, 1999, there have been 31 school shootings. It is important to note that this number does not include other mass shootings and bombings in public places on American soil by Americans, nor does it include terror attacks that we have endured by foreign and international entities. As a teacher, each time one of these shootings happens, I remind myself that I cannot live my life nor dictate my family’s lives as a result of this new precedent where Americans take out their anger, hurt and disillusionment on each other instead of going to therapy or even doing something as simple as having a beer with friends.
Within this new reality, I, as well as many other Americans, have been forced to confront what is really important to us in our day to day lives. We have had to alter our thinking, and we have developed a new lexicon where “Columbine” and “Sandy Hook” are now synonymous with tragedy and mass shootings have become common place. So common in fact that on the day after the navy yard shooting, when trying to discuss the event with my college aged students, I had students who did not know it had happened and others who when I spoke of Columbine and Sandy Hook confronted me with blank stares.
When Isaac returned from his ordeal at the yard, I hugged him like I never have before, even after almost a decade together. The strength and intensity came from knowing that there were husbands and wives who would not get to hug their spouse at the end of such a horrible day. No instead, they had to go to the morgue and identify a body in a bag. In the wake of such tragedy, it is staggering to think that the little spat two days ago even happened when confronted by the harsh and uncontrollable realities of 21st century American life. And so, for me the take away: live for today. Perhaps, a carpe diem attitude is somewhat cliché. But, at the end of the day, no matter if it’s a tragic day or just Wednesday, who cares if he or she forgot to clean the litter box or if dinner was late; it is inconsequential. Love him or her instead because you just never know when some crazy person with a gun will decide to contribute to the new American reality.