Like all children, I grew up with my share of fears. Some were fantastical, like my fear of the show dolls that sat on my shelf and stared at me as I moved around my room. Or my irrational fear of clowns, birthed with the release of Poltergeist and the original version of It.
Some fears were more realistic, but unlikely. For a few years in the early 80s, I ransacked my Halloween candy before digging in, searching for the razor blade that had appeared in some poor kids’ stash in some far off town. In 1983, I watched the televison movie The Day After and was then terrified of a nuclear bomb being dropped on the East Coast.
I was never, however, afraid to be in a public place, or at a soft target. I didn’t even know what that term meant. There was safety in numbers, and the bad guys were nebulous and far, far away.
Last Monday, my kids woke up and reached for their phones to turn off their alarms, like they do every Monday. They were greeted with the same news alert that most Americans read with resigned horror, that all too familiar announcement of another act of violence inflicted on unsuspecting people simply living their lives.
My children are teenagers, far removed from the days when I could turn off the news so they could remain innocently ignorant. I hate that this is their normal – that my kids wake up, reach for their phones, and read that some guy in Vegas opened fire on an outdoor concert and killed 58 people. I hate that I wrote a similar post fifteen months ago, and that I prayed I would never have to again.
Each new episode of violence spawns infighting among our communities and our elected officials, without any solutions to a complex problem. Gun control and mental health treatment are the major talking points, but the issue has been politicized so that it is unrecognizable from what it should be – a nation working together to prevent mass murder.
What can we do? In the face of a tragedy, those of us not directly affected can be at a loss to know how to assimilate this new horror into our reality. I cannot undo what has been done, but I can do my part to fill the world with the opposite of violence, hate, fear, and loss.
I can be kind, like the lovely man I encountered outside of a Starbucks.
I can choose to be happy, because I have the privilege of being able to make that choice.
Also last week, there was an incident on my daughter’s university campus involving a local man harassing female students; I was bombarded with information from a parent Facebook group as well as from the university police. The man is clearly mentally ill; a quick glance at his social media accounts is both heart-breaking and terrifying. He was arrested, released, and then went missing. He’s since been located and hospitalized, to the relief of his family and the college community.
My daughter now carries pepper spray, and has the campus escort number on her phone. Last night she walked home alone but with a group of students around her, and she talked to me on the phone until she arrived back at her dorm. She is vigilant, but she has to live her life.
While parents in the Facebook group were worried about the safety of their children, there was also considerable concern for this troubled young man and his family. I am encouraged by this display of civility and kindness on social media, and the discussion in this Facebook group reaffirms my belief that most people are good. It also reaffirms my belief that we cannot let fear keep us from being respectful, empathetic, and decent.
My good friend Hoda Kotb shares inspiring quotes on her Instagram feed every day, and this one is perfect.
Make someone laugh.
Give a hug.
Listen to the amazing collaboration that is Almost Like Praying, and consider donating to the Hispanic Federation Unidos Fund to aid in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.
Rescue an animal.
Volunteer in your community.
Go to your house of worship.
Choose to be happy.
Choose to be kind.
Choose action over despair.
What will you do today?