Dodging raindrops, I hurried into a downtown restaurant in my neighborhood for the fresh spinach, strawberry salad I’d dreamed of all morning. Surprised at the empty seats in an otherwise packed eating establishment, I quickly learned that a shooting, which had killed three people 90 minutes earlier, had placed many businesses, schools and government offices on lockdown. When I arrived, the wait staff warned patrons not to sit near windows and to keep a lookout for a white SUV when leaving.
I texted a few people to let them know – some responded with utter dismay and concern; others reacted rather matter of factly. (Full disclosure: this is not a “normal” occurrence for me.)
Once word came from the chief of police that the shooter had been apprehended, there was tangible relief in the place. The owner of the restaurant came by to chat at my table, relating how she’d been up unusually early this morning, and had had to finish the thriller she’d been reading. The events of this morning seemed a little too close to home, it seemed. Nervous conversation; misplaced laughter.
As a new resident in this community, this atmosphere took me by surprise. Everything happened quickly.
Then, once the “all clear” came from someone’s cell phone (officially or from word on the street I don’t know), people moved on, taking it in stride. Resuming life. Restaurant personnel invited diners to a one-minute prayer circle on behalf of the shooter and the police department, then everyone went back to work and focused on lunch as if nothing had happened. As I left the building, someone called from the service area: “Be safe out there.” I knew the words were genuine, but to me they felt like a current of electricity.
In subsequent hours I encountered further responses. It’s astounding how quickly some cling to unvetted news reports to help them make sense of the indescribable, by neatly fitting it all into their particular understanding of the world.
And yet! What really happened? And why? These events tend to be quickly categorized for swift interpretation, and efficient exit. Violent acts occur with such rapidity all over this country, that we are left with little, if any, opportunity to process what they actually mean.
There are greater questions that need to be asked than merely determining race, apparent religion and alleged words uttered. Questions of motive, past experience, availability of weaponry to name just a few. If, indeed, someone is singled out and targeted, is there a reason for this? Who is innocent and who is guilty?
I’m not saying that a victim of a crime is guilty. However, a broad swath of a particular population may be more culpable than they / we like to think.
Whether we experience an active shooter in our day-to-day life or not is, in some ways, irrelevant. Every one of us can choose to think more deeply, listen more closely, arrive at conclusions less swiftly, be determined to be awake to the despair and disillusionment that surrounds us. Every day. In every place.