17 people are dead. 14 people are hurt. There have been 18 school shootings in the first 45 days of 2018. Those are the numbers. But how do you do the math?
I used to think the size of the shooting was going to change the math. But then Sandy Hook took a red pen to my calculations. 20 school children between the ages of 6 and 7 were shot and killed. The numbers didn’t add up to anything: no change, no conversation, no nothing.
When Gabby Giffords was shot in the face at a Safeway, I went to the candlelight vigil in Tucson, Arizona. I wept. Her husband was in space, literally, an astronaut. Surely I thought they were American Heroes. The calculus of what they gave to our country was undeniable. But I flunked calculus.
Las Vegas was a turning point in my life. Somewhere between weeping my last tear for Gabby Giffords and Las Vegas, I checked out. I couldn’t live from one horrific act of gun violence to the next. So I gave up math.
Call me selfish, but I think it’s within your right to ignore what’s happening. Play golf. Go shopping. Focus on making rent. Take a dance class in the evenings. Get on Tinder. You don’t have to deal if you don’t want to deal. It’s very similar to voting. Not voting is also a choice.
But then Charlottesville happened and I couldn’t pretend it was okay. I got involved and I got my ass handed to me. I should have known better. But I chose to engage, which is a choice. Unfortunately, when you choose to engage it comes with a consequence. Without knowing it, I had already set in motion the algorithm of my demise. On the morning of the Las Vegas Shooting, punch drunk from all the blows to the head I’d taken by re-engaging after Charlottesville, I retweeted a question asked by Ava DuVernay: “When the shooter is black, when the shooter is brown, he’s called a terrorist. When the shooter is white he’s called a lone wolf. Why?” I replied, “When I heard it was Country Western Music and the shooter was white I felt relief. White people shooting white people isn’t terrorism. White people shooting white people is community outreach.”
It was a mistake. It wasn’t the right context for something so complicated. Twitter erupted. My life was turned upside down. It’s 5 months later and I’m still trying to get to the other side of being upside down.
The straightest distance between 2 points is a wrinkle in time.
So when my college roommate reached out to me today, telling me about a school shooting in his neighborhood, my first instinct was to turn off my phone. I didn’t want to engage. But he sent me a picture. Then he sent me a video. I sat there frozen. I didn’t know what to do. We went to school together at The University Of Florida. He still lives in Florida, one town over from Parkland. His daughters have friends who were shot. I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to handle it. So I went to the gym and turned off my phone. I made sure to surround myself with people on the treadmill who were only watching sports. When I wandered into the weight room and saw coverage of the shooting, I turned around, grabbed a jump rope and stared at a wall.
I can’t do it anymore.
I don’t have the beginning of an answer or even a rudimentary grasp of how the math works.
Emily Anne is a 3rd grade school teacher. Am I supposed to pretend everything is going to be okay? I can do it. I can pretend. But what happens if one day the pretending doesn’t work? Then I’ll be so upside down that even if I get to the other side I’ll still be upside down from where I started which means I’ll never be able to forgive myself for not even trying even though trying after Las Vegas got my life reduced to a zero sum game.
It’s Valentine’s Day. I came home with flowers. We made dinner. Emily Anne was exhausted from teaching. I was stir crazy from 5 months of not knowing what I’m going to do next. I still don’t know. Do I watch the news? Do I watch the Olympic Games? Can I do both? I know I’m going to do both. But either way, when it gets right down to it, I’m watching instead of doing.
It’s time for me to get back in the game. Zero plus one step is one. I’m not ready. But so what? I can’t spend the rest of my life on a treadmill running away from what I lost. Maybe I’ll never get this mission off the ground. Maybe I’ll never be a rocket scientist. But so what?
I’d like to take a crack at the math.