Yesterday, a terrorist attacked an elementary school in Connecticut. A terrorist shot and killed children. Young children. A lot of them. This was terrorism. It’s easy (and possibly comforting) to think of terrorists as these different looking foreign people from a far away land who hate us just for being wonderful, but terrorism is also here, from our country from “our” people. Us versus them is sometimes us versus us. And it terrifies me.
This was my first major tragedy as a mom. Yes, there have been other tragedies since Adi was born, but this is the first one where I couldn’t convince myself that it couldn’t happen to me. I couldn’t tell myself I would have done X, Y and Z differently so therefore that bad thing won’t happen to me. There’s nothing that I could have done. I’m totally powerless with this — and it terrifies me.
One of those kids could have been my kid.
Tragedies are harder to follow, and swallow in the new media age. Everyone is tweeting details and rumors. I spent most of the day trying to determine the credibility of everything I read. Everything was an emotional roller coaster. I cried for those kids. My husband cried for those kids. Eventually I had to shut everything off and take a media break. It was too much.
Adi happened to be spending the day with my mother so I didn’t even have her to distract me from the horror. It’s probably for the best, I wouldn’t have wanted her to see me cry or have to endure an “I’m scared that you could die at any moment and there’s nothing I can do about it” hug. Adi isn’t old enough to understand what happened. She isn’t old enough to ask questions. I don’t know what I would have told her. If, God forbid, something like this happens again I’d tell her that sometimes bad people do bad things, and that we should be nice to and help people who need it.
We must fight the terrorism from our own countrymen as aggressively as we fight the threats from outside our borders, but we can’t live our lives in fear. Tragedies like this are rare. We can’t stop our lives. We can’t keep our kids away from school — or else the terrorists win.
I can’t say if right right now is the right time to discuss gun control or how we treat the mentally ill in America. I can say that if you want to discuss the things that caused this, you should…but try to be respectful of the people who want to wait. And if you don’t want to discuss it right now, be respectful of those who do.
If the gun control or mental health debates are going to be productive tomorrow, we can’t burn bridges today. Don’t take your fear and anger out on someone with a differing opinion. Keep insulting comments to yourself. It might not be too soon to talk gun control or mental institutions, but it’s definitely too soon for whining righteous indignation and personal attacks.
When faced with an evil of this magnitude we must respond with compassion. Compassion for the families that lost kids, for the kids that lost parents, for the kindergarteners now terrified of the world around them. Compassion for your neighbor no matter what she thinks, because chances are she’s just as shaken as you are.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.