A gunman at a school. Kids evacuated. Frantic parents. Sound familiar? Except for today, it was my son’s school and I was that parent. Today, there was a gunman reported at Sam’s middle school, wearing a long trenchcoat and holding a rifle. The kids were taken to the high school nearby and held in the auditorium for 4 hours until the school declared it “safe” to return. The gunman has not been found.
When are we ever going to feel safe? This past week, I was at Target (ok, I’m at Target almost every day, but that is besides the point), and an alarm went off-someone bumped into a fire door. Then I was at the drug store (buying my kids Stompees, these silly slippers that every store had sold out of, but Walgreens had a few left) and another alarm went off. The look on everyone’s faces in these stores was of sheer terror.
In November, while Craig and I were out at dinner, we got a call from a police officer that a burglar had broken into our next door neighbor’s house and was in our yard. All 3 kids were home with a sitter and by the time the police got to our house, he had escaped. The burglar has broken into about 8 houses in our neighborhood since then, by throwing a rock through a window and running in and taking jewelery. My 85 year old widowed neighbor was home alone when it happened and hid in her garage and called 911.
A few weeks later, at 6 p.m., while Craig was out of town and I was alone with my 3 kids, the doorbell rang saying “Open up please!” So, I did and it was our local news station wanting to know how I feel about these burglaries. I mumbled some things that made no sense including “My dog barked the burglar away.” The cameras were rolling and me, in my pajamas, no bra, no makeup and very unruly hair, ended up as that night’s top story (this kind of stuff seems to always happen to me.) The next day, news vans converged on my house, and I hid in my bedroom until I ran out of the house yelling “No comment! It wasn’t even me!” like Monica Lewinsky.
The burglar is still at large and the residents of our town recently discovered that our police force has only 3 cops on duty at a time. There have been discussions, newspaper stories and a town hall meeting to demand more police presence.
I recently went to the movies and saw a man I felt looked “suspicious” coming in. I felt trapped in there, but then I wondered, would someone really shoot up a screening of “Silver Linings Playbook”?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. When will we feel safe? Where are we safe? If we are not safe at the movies, in the mall, at school, at work, on a plane, or even in our own backyards, are we safe anywhere?
Politicians spend a lot of time worrying about taking away the rights of people on government assistance, taking away gay rights, or testing homeless people for drugs before they can get help. I have been working with indigent people in my county for 15 years, and I am not afraid of them. I’m worried about people living in homes with unrestricted access to weapons. I’m worried about our health care system not helping those with mental illness. I’m worried that one of my mentally ill clients is being prosecuted for holding a sign that said “Homeless, Please Help” on the expressway ramp. He is being prosecuted for loitering with my tax dollars, while the people here in Arizona are making sure people can legally bring guns to bars.
So, what do we say when our kids ask us if they are safe? My beautiful friend Audrey just passed away way too young from cancer. She loved butterflies more than anything. Today, a butterfly landed on my 4 year old as he walked home from school. He asked me why that happened and I said maybe it is Audrey protecting you. And that is what I’m hoping. That the people up there are watching out for us down here. That’s the only answer I’ve got.