Sunday, June 12:
As a parent, you look at that little being God has placed in your life and with everything you have, you swear to protect it. That passion becomes the constant thrum behind everything you do and everything you say. A second heartbeat as reliable and steady and strong as the one that keeps your blood pumping.
Today more than a hundred parents faced their worst nightmare, and many of our beautiful children lost their lives.
Why does this one hurt me deeper than the other shootings? I tell my son it’s because I have “my” LGBT children whom I have care for all these years. I tell my husband it’s because I spent so many nights, before I met him, dancing and laughing and drinking at nightclubs with the waiters from the restaurant in the wee small hours after we got off work each weekend. I tell my mother it’s because I am the oldest, raised to physically stand in front of those younger and smaller than me so I can protect them. But only my daughter sees through me to the core and knows. I will, for as long as I live, be a mother who hears that imaginary bullet whine across the room towards her child and knows that there is nothing at all I can do to stop it.
This one cuts to the bone because when it comes down to it we are rarely there when we’re needed. We make such big promises and even as we make them, we know they will go unfulfilled. We weren’t at the door to tell the shooter no and take the gun from his hands. We weren’t there to cradle those who made it out and look back in fear. We don’t wait at home for the first responders, to rub their backs as they relive the nightmares. And we won’t hold the hands of those bereaved loved ones as they take the first fragile steps into their new reality.
“Stay safe”, we breathe to our infants, whispering the words into ears as tiny and opalescent as a shell. “Wear your swimmies”, we tell our toddlers, cramming pudgy arms into the inflated rings. “Wear your helmet”, we lecture our schoolchildren, tightening the buckles under those soft chins. “Wear your seatbelt”, we remind the teens as we hand them the keys and watch them swagger out the door.
But this, this is something we don’t have a magic charm for. How do you stay safe against hate, against misguided religious fervor, against the cruelty of children to immigrant schoolmates and of older folks railing against change. How do you stay safe against words and bullets, guns and fists, lies and anger. These are not new weapons. There have been massacres as long as mankind has had the power to kill. These are not new fears. People die the world over from these selfsame actions and have done so for as long as we’ve had history.
So I will tell myself, and my children, my mother and husband and friends, we can’t stay safe. That isn’t working. Instead, let’s wear our hearts openly and in public. Stand up like my Godson and tell your teammates those “jokes” are not okay. Send an email, like the head of the prayer chain at church, that reminds us all that we are a faith that is inclusive, not exclusive, and that God is not an emissary of hate. Reach out, like my daughter, to remind people that guns kill, that mental illness kills, and that each of us has a duty to make sure there is less of both in the world each day. Wear your individuality and grace with pride, like my “adopted” sons. Have the courage to put out your hand to protect a pet, a child, or someone more helpless than you.
So today, even as I send the impossible plea “stay safe” to the young people in my life, I promise those who didn’t that I will remember, today and every day, to wear my heart on the outside. That it is my job, and all of ours, to be kind and brave and good. That is all we have against the dark, and we must all use it so that someday, somewhere, someone will make the difference that matters.