"Mommy, why do we have to take our shoes off at the airport? "
"How come I can't take my juice box onto the plane? "
"What is war? "
"Mom, will they shoot me at school?"
"Why is everyone so sad today (9/11)? "
"Are we safe going to the hockey game? "
"Will the bad people get us at the movies, Mom? "
"Why is everyone cheering that that man was killed? (Bin Laden) "
"How come that bomb when off when everyone was standing there, waiting for their families?"
"Mommy, why are you crying, did you know those people?"
How many of us are having to answer those questions on a more consistent basis? I know for me, it comes more often than I would like. Essentially since the time my son was an infant, our country has been on high alert for a terrorist threat; in fact, he hasn't known it any other way, so these types of questions are not unusual in our household but they seem to be coming far more fast and furiously for my taste. And while it may be "normal' for this generation, it's new for most of us Gen X'ers, who never really walked around thinking we were constantly vulnerable to being victimized by extremists. But maybe the threat has always been a part of our existence, but we just don't notice it is as unnerving anymore. Maybe we are just so inundated with violence that it's more unusual to be in a state of calm, than in a state of panic and fear? We are bombarded with hundreds of news (and non-news) stories daily; each more horrific than the next, but do we just shrug our shoulders and dismiss it as indifference? How many of you immediately connected the MIT shooting in Boston with the Marathon bombing? I didn't. I just assumed it was another school shooting. How sad is that?
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I felt safe. We left our doors open, we stayed out until the street lights went on, we opened doors for strangers, we acknowledged our neighbors, we made eye contact. We were a community. As a kid, I never thought about what living in a society where the Klu Klux Klan were underfoot, or who the "Mad Bomber" was or if a present day Hitler could emerge. I am sure I heard about plane crashes, but it didn't carry much weight back then to me. We hopped through airport security lines with ease, never needing to strip down... we strolled through the front doors of sporting events, offering a high five to the ticket taker as opposed to offering the contents in our bags and pockets... we walked in and out of school with a carefree mentality, without going through a locked gate or a metal detector -- life was just plain easier. Yea sure, my dad told me to fear "stranger danger" and I am sure I knew that people were hurt (or killed) by bad people, but that was the extent of it. Was there more going on and he just chose to shield me from it, or were we actually living in safer times?
According to the FBI Crime Statistics not really.
Let's just take a look at murder. The number of homicides in 1960 was 9,110 with a population of 179,323,175 ... that statistic more than doubled during the '80s and '90s; and then in 2011, the number of murders was recorded at 14,612, with a population of 311,591,917. While I am no mathematician, it doesn't look to me like much has changed in the last 50 plus years (percentage wise, less than ½ a percent fewer people have been killed). I will concede overall crime has gone down in the last few years but it's coming down from such a ridiculously high number not more than 20 years ago. In fact, in 1994 the year my brother was savagely killed, he was just one of 23,300 other victims brutalized, let me repeat 23,300 people lost their lives at the hand of another. So yes, the numbers have decreased over time, but has the threat equally diminished?
We spend a lot of time in this country worrying about the attacks from outside our flexible borders, but the assault on our innocence right here at home, is frightening. The violence is getting more horrendous, more creative, more "viral' and the victims are younger and younger, and it doesn't seem to end. And I am fairly certain it's only going to get worse. We are at war with each other, right here at home.
And in the midst of the suffering from the Boston Marathon tragedy, we get news that the Senate rejected the bill that would provide stricter gun control, an argument that polarizes special interest groups and the community at large. I hear ramblings of "it's a violation of my rights" to increase a longer wait period or to ban assault weapons -- really? Well what about my right to be safe? My right to live a full life? My son's right to outlive me? I don't think our forefathers had assault rifles in mind, when they wrote the Second Amendment. In fact, I think they would be pretty ashamed of our nation for believing that garnering the ability to kill mass amounts of people in a mere few seconds is your invariable right. Yes, yes I know ... guns don't kill people, people kill people -- trust me, I get that and agree. But since we know that we have people walking along side us, that are willing, able and actively killing us, why wouldn't we want to do all we can to protect the innocent? Why do we want to continue subjecting ourselves to that way of life? We can make those changes; we can protect our rights and our lives, all at the same time if we wanted. We just have to change the order of priority.
But I digress; my post is not an argument for or against gun control, but to discuss safety and ambivalence. I don't want to be accustomed to living in a society where nothing feels safe anymore, but that it's just the "way it is now." I am so used to being under siege all the time, that I am sure I've let my guard down, because it's exhausting to be vigilant all the time. But in that same vein, I am hyper-sensitive about how vulnerable we are at any given moment, and as a result I am very observant about my surroundings and the potential for danger. How do I remain stoic in my quest for a safe life and live it freely, without the fear running me ragged? How can it be that I've learned to be both complacent (and trusting) and painfully aware all at the same time?
Maybe it's because I'm a parent and I'm responsible for keeping another human being alive and well. Maybe it's because I'm a crime victim and know firsthand, that if someone wants to end your life they will, by whatever means they deem appropriate ... regardless of the law. Maybe I don't want to live in a society anymore where we profile each other sub-consciously because sadly, it's been conditioned in us.
I don't entirely know the answers, but it plagues me. And when I discuss it with friends, they don't understand either. We grapple with how it used to be, verses what it is today. We struggle with how to keep our kids and each other safe, without living in constant fear of the societal boogeyman. We hope that we never have to face the reality of another Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, and Boston in our own home towns.
So we keep talking, we keep living and most of us keep doing nothing about it.
Let's be the change.
Follow Kim Goldman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KimEGoldman