When I learned the meaning of “mass shooting”

 

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My son: Why are you crying, Mommy?

Me: Because of all the shootings. There was another one last night.

My son looks at me with confusion.

My husband: Do you know what a shooting is?

My son: No.

My son is growing up in a world where this is normal, but until today the word “shooting” remained undefined for him.

I remember when I learned what a “mass shooting” was. I was fourteen-years-old and I lived in Monument, Colorado. I had gone to algebra class like I was supposed to, but my teacher, a frizzy redhead with no love for me, hadn’t showed. The class was getting restless, and no one knew if we were supposed to sit around waiting for her or call the office, mutiny or follow orders. There was a window in the classroom that lead out onto a courtyard. From there, I could look into the teacher’s lounge. They all wanted me to climb out and go see if she was still in there, just sitting around, getting drunk on her break. We wondered if this was some experiment the faculty was conducting, seeing how long we would take to react, would be behave. These were the expectations we had, a bunch of kids with no real experience in the world.

I unlatched the window to climb out, and just as the crook of my knee curled around the edge of the windowsill, a voice came on the intercom calling me down to the office and ordering me to bring my backpack.

I was certain they’d seen me on some camera they had in the classroom and I was done for.

When I arrived at the office, instead of my teacher or the assistant principal, I found my Dad standing in front of the window, running his hands through his silver hair.

“I was just messing ar—” I started.

My dad turned, his face red, his icy blue eyes shiny. “There’s been a mass shooting.”

Mass shooting.

“What do you mean?”

“There is a school up the road, not far, in Columbine. Someone opened fire in the classroom.” My dad swallowed hard. “I’m taking you home.”

At that time, no one knew if the shooter was on a rampage, if there were other shooters in the area making teenagers with backpacks their targets. But my father knew one thing: this is too close, I’m taking you to safety.

I learned something else that day, besides the meaning of “mass shooting”. I learned that even if my father took me away from the violence, he couldn’t prevent me from experiencing the terror of it. There was, never again, a day that I woke without the knowledge that if someone is hurt, angry, hate filled and they have access to a gun, they can kill without mercy.

I was a reader. I understood societal violence from books. At fourteen, I was obsessed with the Holocaust, consumed by the reality that one man filled with prejudice could rally an army to brutally murder the people group he despised. I was even more obsessed with the thought that he was defeated, in the end, by his own hatred of himself, because he was a coward, and hatred will only lead to death.

At fourteen, I watched as hate and sadness consumed two teenagers and others were the victims. Now, murderous hate was no longer an abstract concept. It was right down the street from me. Not multiple generations in the past. Not a world away in Europe.

My son watched me cry this morning. My son got an explanation for why. My son will be raised in a world where shootings have become almost commonplace, but my son has so far been sheltered from the violence of it.

My son: Mommy, is Dallas far away or close?

Me: Dallas is thirty minutes from us.

And I cried again. I cried as I had to explain why the cops in Dallas were killed. I cried as I told him about the events in Louisiana, in Minnesota. I spared him details, a gift I can still give him as his mother. A gift like my father gave me.

My father couldn’t prevent the violence from happening, but when he picked me up from school the day of the Columbine shooting he shielded me from that unknown danger, the fear of hate. He told me, later, when the details came out about the shooters, that I wasn’t ever in danger, not really. He wanted me to feel safe again.

But the thing was, and I knew it then, in my own school there were kids living at the edge, hurting and hating and angry. I knew that I was always in danger, every time I walked out the door to go to school because now none of us were safe. Now, my world had been changed. We had seen something we’d never seen before, and we knew it was real.

Hate is like a flame. It burns through everything else until all that remains is a pit that cannot be filled with anything but violence. Hate is an idea that turns into a movement. Hate is words spoken that cannot be taken back. Hate is blame. Hate is assumed superiority. Hate is the little thought in the back of your mind that designates what is other.

Hate is what happened in Dallas. In Louisiana. In Minnesota. At Sandy Hook. At Columbine. On September 11th. In Orlando. In South Carolina. In San Bernadino. In Paris. In Istanbul. In Israel for generations. All over the world for as long as humans have walked it.

It is not enough to talk about Love, the abstract concept. I sit here crying, and it isn’t because I personally knew the people killed by this violence. It is because my heart swells with love for my son, my state, my country, my world. It is me feeling the pain all at once, all through my body, and not shutting it down. It is longing to hold those hurting close just like I held my son close as I cried.

It is NOT longing for a better world. I have lived in this world, this version, most of my life. This is the world I have been given. This is the world I must love. This is the world I must try to be a voice in, a light in, a willing heart in. This is my son’s world. And wishing it was different will not make it so.

BEING different in it is my only defense. Teaching my son to be different is my only safeguard. Writing my passion onto the page in the hope it will touch someone’s heart, make them soften, give them hope, is my action for change.

No one wins if we will not allow our own hearts to be changed first. If we cannot see every single human— even the ones voting for a candidate you hate, or living a lifestyle you disapprove of, or not doing whatever you think they should and therefor not doing enough– as equal and valuable and worthy of love. Right now, we are not winning. Not one side or the other. There may never be a point in our lifetime that we do win.

The best we can hope for is this: a willing heart hearing a cry for understanding. Someone else, and ourselves, our children and their friends reaching out to say I don’t know the answer, but let me hold your hand, let me cry with you, let me be with you, let me fight with you.

 Let me really, actively, without condemnation or hate, without condition, LOVE you.

That is not the answer.

I am a Christian.

How many will stop reading this post because of that?

What if I said I was Muslim?

How many others would stop then?

I find it difficult to talk about my faith on social media, and so mostly, I don’t. My Facebook feed is divided: half people I go to church with and half I have met in my life as a young adult writer and screenwriter. A lot of conservatives, just as many liberals. I see both sides to every popular argument going on in America. I rarely add my own voice to the debate. Partly because I do not want to create more noise, and partly because I do not always know what I feel is right.

Christians say go to the Bible, the answers are there. But it’s easy to misinterpret the Bible based on my own desires, based on my own experiences, the environment I live in, the world I am faced with or wishing for. Ultimately, faith is personal and a journey and not easy. My path and yours are different, and therefor the way I choose to live is not subject to your approval. The way you live is not for me to discuss or diminish. My answer from God is not yours.

When I lived in New York City, I constantly encountered people that did not believe the same thing as I did. These people did not shock me or wound me. They were not my enemies because they were gay or atheists, because they were the children of a Muslim, because they ascribed to a different spiritual journey or lifestyle.

But still my faith was shaken. And it was good for me. It taught me who I really was, and it helped me learn true empathy, it opened my mind. Faith is not made sturdy without testing. I am no lesser now because I want to accept other people for who they are and what they believe, because I question things more freely, because I am willing to change. I do not care about a person’s sexual orientation, race or religious affiliations as long as they are kind and they treat me with respect.

That is the only thing that matters in a friend, in a world. How we treat each other.

I get tired of the fighting. I want very little from my friends. I want them to laugh with me. I want them to listen to me. I want them to be brave. I want them to respect my choices. These are all things we should be able to do, but more and more it seems we can’t. We think it is our job to show someone the light, and I don’t mean the Light of the World. We spend a lot of time arguing particulars. If someone doesn’t support the woman’s right to choose, they are trying to control women. If someone thinks abortions aren’t murder, they are compared to Hitler — Hitler, who slaughtered millions of Jews because of his own bigotry and fear. Bigotry and fear lead nowhere good fast.

I will not fight you on these or any other issue because for every horror story on one side of the coin, there is an equally horrible one on the other. There is no good answer in a world like this one. There are only more questions.

I have a very good friend that used to, after we had a few glasses of wine, always start up a debate. And I would always listen because her views and feelings were important to me. We would go round and round on the BIG questions of War and Death and Illness, Rape and Violence, and she would always ask me how I could acknowledge all of these things and still believe in God. I would always tell her the same thing, because I choose to.

For me it really is that simple. But this fight we are in all around the world, that is not simple. It is painful and nuanced, layered and eternal. I have learned there is no one answer to silence every voice.

Just be the very best possible version of the person you think you are meant to be. Don’t be an ass no matter your religion, race, gender or lifestyle. Don’t try to conform others to your liking. Be who you are and have a little faith that that is what you are meant to do, that is enough, that is your answer. Show don’t tell. Act when you need to, when it is right for you. Be willing to listen, be brave enough to speak your truth, and be kind enough to shut up when you are finished.

The Power of Love

I fell in love with a turtle this week. That’s a strange sentence, and not one I ever thought I’d write. On Wednesday around noon I was coming home from working out and getting my hair highlighted (I know, my life is so hard, but before you throw tomatoes at me, it had been six months since I had the time to get my hair done. And I’m a marshmallow, so work out machines resemble torture devises to me.) when the corner of my eye caught on something moving in the grass by my shoe.

A baby turtle!

Without thinking, my husband and I gathered him up, and made a makeshift habitat out of tupperware and river rocks. We discovered the little guy is a red ear slider. Aquatic by nature. We live on a hill surrounded by woods. We have a mostly dry creek bed, because Texas has been in drought, but no real natural source of water anywhere close enough for this turtle to be coming from or trying to get to. There had been a storm, so our thinking is that the turtle was washed up into our yard and then got lost.

(OK, you don’t need to know all this. I do have a point. Bear with me.)

Needless to say, my husband, Sam and I have spent the last four days getting the turtle set up in wondrous aquatic habitat. Sam named the turtle Scout, which is his favorite name. We worry over the little thing like he’s, well, not a wild turtle I nearly stepped on, but a sudden, welcome member of our family.

The turtle hiding underwater.

The turtle hiding underwater.

We love him, for some reason, and we feel responsible for keeping him alive. He’s just a turtle, you say? He is, but that doesn’t change the fact that his tiny swimming self is worth loving.

Love is funny. It is quite possibly the most natural physiological and emotional reaction in life, and yet human beings are terrified of giving themselves over to it. No matter what kind of love it is. Love is dangerous and powerful because loving something or someone means they have some measure of control over you. They own a piece of you.

Even Scout, the turtle. Scout the turtle has the place in my heart reserved for amphibians. I didn’t know there was a place there for those, but unexpectedly there is. Scout has it.

We are so afraid of the pain of love, of the losing, or the hurt that can be caused by loving that it becomes very easy to shut off your aching heart from feeling it. Your mind from opening to the possibility of it. Your body from releasing the rush of adrenaline and oxytocin associated with the fierce instinct to protect. Rather, we numb ourselves. Or we lessen the validity of the emotion in order to protect ourselves from the possible, and often, eventual pain of losing something or someone we love.

As a mother, I gave up that right when my son was born. The daily anxiety I feel associated to Sam is tantamount to tiny panic attacks in my heart. As a wife, (7 years today!) I have no choice but to feel the fear and longing of being inextricably bound to another person. The last time I was free to wound myself without it affecting another person was…never…because before my husband and Sam, it was my mother and father.

Love is treacherous. Those you love take root in your soul. The power of love is supernatural, it binds and breaks and saves. It’s an incredible thing because it is the foundation that lives and worlds are built on. Pretending love has any less power than it does is sticking your head in the sand. Being capable of loving when you understand its power is superhero work.

So, I love a turtle. His little life has bearing, even if it’s small in comparison to my other loves, on mine. I accept that. When we love things — whether human, animal, aquatic, or other — we must acknowledge their power. Writing words is a love in my life. My nieces are loves in my life. God is a love in my life. My five brothers are loves, and those married have wives I love. Best friends, old and new…and so on, forever.

Loving gives them the right to need you, to want you, to take your time and energy, and very often, to cut you deeply. If you don’t love, and you don’t understand the potential in loving something or someone more than yourself, then you miss the fruit of having them love you back. Of having your son wake up in the morning, run upstairs and tell you you’re beautiful when you know —right then — you’re not. Of having your husband hold you when you’re crying because you just are and that’s enough of a reason. Of so much more that makes life, actually and only then, worth living.

That’s…the Power of Love. Happy Arrested Development Premier Day and my wedding anniversary. A special note to some other wonderful couples who got married today as well: Jennifer and Darren, Allen and Mindy, Violet and John —May 26th is Love day!

Road Trip Wednesday: #169 Lovers, Lovers Everywhere

rtwRoad Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This Week’s Topic is: Syncing up with our Bookmobile Book of the Month, NOBODY BUT US by our own Kristin Halbrook, we’re asking: Will and Zoe hit the road to be together. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for love, or what’s your favorite book/movie moment of someone doing crazy things for love?

I am not going to lie. I am a romantic. It makes me tingly. I am not a super showy person, though. I don’t like pointing to myself or my love like a taunt. I also get really embarrassed by my own romantic side. It’s hard for me to be vulnerable with people and expose my soft underbelly.

This is something I have always struggled with as a writer as well. I love romantic love as a part of the story. I love tension and chemistry, and I love watching it develop as an attraction, a friendship, a reliance, a shared pain or secret. Romance is built on a myriad of foundations, and no one is necessarily better than the other. I enjoy writing about falling in love, but I flinch when it takes center stage.

My husband and I were actual Young Adults when we fell in love. The craziest thing I did in my romance with him was taking the leap to being with him. This is where I get squiggly. My romantic history was sketchy, a veritable shit-storm, and I was carrying around shrapnel from it when I met my husband. He was a junior in high school. I was a freshman in college. I won’t tell you the whole story here because the whole story plays out like a novel, and that will take too long. One part does, however, easily come to mind to help illustrate my answer.

The fear I was carrying from my previous experience threatened to push me away from anything else. I was on the threshold of this new romance and I was petrified of losing it. Not losing him, but losing the hope of him. I remember telling my mom one day that I had been robbed of my beliefs in love, and the expectation of what it would be like to finally be in love. (Seriously, those words. There is a reason I write YA.)

My mom looked me square in the face and said, “You have a chance here to make something completely new, the both of you. It will be whatever you both are willing to let it be. It can be anything, but it will be nothing if you don’t try.”

My mom is not known for being a romantic. She’s a gardener. If you are a rose bush or some rare fig tree, she might wax poetically, otherwise she sees it as a waste of time. So, her expressing this rather grand romantic sentiment was quite shocking.

But it helped me be bold. To not care where I had been before, or how naysayers around me mocked. And the payoff was big.

Now, I am going to risk being incredibly lame when I answer the second part of this question because all of these scenes send shivers through me. Looking for some of these clips prompted giddiness.

5. Say Anything…

Oh, young John Cusack, how I crushed on thee.

4. Matthew and Mary, Overall, but particularly when they danced.

If you are a watcher of Downton Abbey you will undoubtedly know why this one is bittersweet for me.

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3. The make out scene in Rae Carson’s Crown of Embers. Steamy and utterly romantic.

2.When the Doctor closes the breach

Being separated and in love, especially when it is for the salvation of the world, is pretty crazy. Crazy Brave. Plus, the Doctor will never be happy. Not really. I was so scarred by David Tennant’s death that I have yet to move on to Matt Smith. Thinking about it gives me anxiety.

1. When John Crichton Dies

For those of you who have never been exposed to the wonders of Farscape, this will not make a lot of sense. But there are Two Johns, and one of them dies to save the love of his life. There are a million romantic scenes in Farscape. John and Aeryn’s love story is hard to beat. The word “epic” was created for these two.

As always, when I am asked to recall anything, I blank. Likely, many, many more scenes will come to me. Alas, I must actually post this. Feel free to jog my memory with others!

Wilber

Wilbur  May 2003-December 2012

Wilber
May 2003-December 2012

“The death of a beloved is an amputation.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

We never expect death, no matter the form it takes, therefore we are never really prepared for it. You might think, as I might too most days, that we should expect death. Death is the end which we all will meet, one day, in one manner or another. We should always expect it, right? It is always out there.

I’m not being morbid.

When I met Wilber, the dog featured in the photo above, we were equally lost and unloveable. He was the runt of an unwanted litter, the least of the least. He was free. He was exactly what I needed. God uses many things in life to help teach us about His love. Or the love we should exhibit for each other. Wilber taught me about acceptance.

Wilber taught almost everyone who knew him that lesson. He was a flawed creature, intimidating and frightening at times, gentle and silly at others. He was unpredictable, and yet, easily read.

Wilber was a dog.

And now, Wilber is gone. That Wilber lived as long as he did is a miracle in itself. As loving as he was to me, and to those who were family, he was also an animal filled with violence. He had bitten and he had scared people. And this part of him, the part that was so dangerous, was just as much a part of him as the gentle, frightened heart we cherished.

His imperfection reminded us that being imperfect is a sign you are living. Toward the end of Wilber’s life he had mellowed. He had endeared himself to those who would otherwise be fearful of him, and he had remained a significant pillar in the building of our family. He had a good life, as good any dog ever did. Then he had a sudden death, but one you could say had been chasing him all along.

We buried him behind the house he spent his last months in. I was there with three of my brothers, my husband and son, a longtime family friend with a special affinity for the black mutt, and my mom and dad. Wilber had lived most of his life in my parents home, and even though I had found him, he wasn’t mine. He was all of ours. So in the chill, on ground frozen still lingering white, we all said goodbye.

He will be sorely missed.

I don’t usually like to write like this. To encourage mindfulness, or to talk of finding greater meaning in the otherwise meaningless. I usually like to avoid putting things out there like this. But this holiday season, too much has happened not to make a statement about it. Not to employ you to hold close those one’s who are dear, or to examine the value in all that you touch.

“So, be careful then how you live, not as unwise, but as wise making the most of every opportunity for the days are evil. Do not be foolish.”

Eph. 5:15

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