My sons bought their tickets more than a month ago. The younger one planned to see a marathon -- nine hours of Batman, all three movies, the last one starting at 12:01 AM. The older one was just going to the newest of the trilogy, at a suburban New York theater that sold out for its midnight show almost as soon as tickets went on sale.
Just like the theater in Aurora, Colorado.
With every tragedy we wonder "Could that have been me?" Have I ever taken that flight? Eaten at that restaurant on top of the towers? Sent my children to a school that but-for-the-grace-of-god could have been Columbine? Or a college that could have been Virginia Tech? Might I have brought them along to a shopping center to shake hands with their Congresswoman? Or let them go to a midnight showing of the hottest movie of the summer?
With each tragedy we measure how close we came, and give thanks that it wasn't a little closer.
Of all the searing images that have been flashing on screens this morning, the comments I can't get out of my head are in a blog post written by a young woman named Jessica Ghawi last month. Ghawi happened to be in the Eaton Centre mall in Toronto in June when a gunman opened fire in the food court. She would have been sitting directly in his sights if a sudden "panicky feeling" hadn't compelled her to leave three minutes before the shots rang out. "I can't help but be thankful for whatever caused me to make the choices that I made that day," she wrote.
Last night she was one of the dozen who died during the massacre at the Century 16 Cinema.
There was a 3-month-old baby boy among the injured, and a 6-year-old, and a pregnant woman. It was a movie based on a comic-book, and the audience was young, some because this was the film they had been waiting for ever since the last one, and others because their parents probably thought they would fall asleep during the show. All the victims, all 12 dead and dozens more injured, were each someone's child. Someone who would do anything to keep that child safe, if only life gave us warning signs, empty feelings of dread in our chests, to tell us there was danger looming.
Or, more to the point, if only we knew when to listen to those feelings. Because they are always there. Being a parent means always wondering if danger looms, if you have made the right choice, if you just missed tragedy. Every decision to let them out of our sight brings some shadow version of what Gahwi described, " a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing."
Yes, we know the risks are small. There has been much written about how we are smothering our children, and worrying about the wrong dangers, and hovering and helicoptering, and cocooning them in bubblewrap. We are hurting them by listening to our constant "feelings like something was missing, " we are told. And, statistically, that advice is right.
But statistics don't mean a damn on days like these.
Because, after all, the roots of our foreboding lie in the days that make this one feel eerily familiar. We have watched this loop before, in Colorado, and Virginia, and Arizona, and Toronto. And while, on the one hand, we hear that the odds of a crazed gunman's bullet finding its mark in our children is infinitismal, as is the likelihood of abduction while walking to school for the first time, or sexual molestation by a stranger we trust to be alone with them, on the other hand we know the names of the children to whom that has happened.
We also know that while we are being reassured that the world is basically safe, and we are overreacting to the dangers, somehow a series of lunatics keep finding a way to get guns and aim them at our kids.
My son Alex went to his movie marathon last night. He came home safe and sound at 4 a.m., at more risk driving home than during the time he spent in the theater. At the last minute, my older son Evan decided not to go to the film at all. Could that choice have saved his life? Any choice can. Or not.
Tomorrow I will remember that I cannot keep them safe, no matter how many feelings I listen to and how many precautions I take. Today, though, I will hug them, and cry for the victims they might have been. I will get angry at the world that allows a midnight movie to become a massacre. And I won't let them out of my sight.
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