The usually crowded theater was eerily empty on a Monday night with only one other family seated a few rows behind us. As we settled in and the lights dimmed, I found my mind wandering. Instead of enjoying the film and this solo time with my three kids, I was distracted by where we were seated. The prime seats we scored in the very center of the theater suddenly felt like the worst possible place to be sitting. Anyone entering the theater would see my family first. It was the first place bullets would fly. I can’t tell you much about the movie we watched that night.
The next day the shootings in San Bernardino County were all over the news and social media. By the time I left the house that evening my brain was completely saturated with tragic headlines and violent images. Rushing out the door, I heard the sounds of a helicopter flying overhead. As I pulled away from the curb, I saw the police logo on the side of the chopper and drove with a pit in my stomach to pick up the kids from school.
After completing my first pick up from the twins’ pre-school, I noticed the helicopter flying directly over my eldest daughter’s elementary school. I forced the panic down deep and drove just a bit faster, rolling through every stop sign along the way. With each passing block, the anxiety grew and the irrational thoughts started creeping in. What would I do if I approached her school and there was a lockdown in place? Would I leave the twins with a stranger or in the car? My mind began formulating all types of rescue scenarios that didn’t make the least bit of logical sense.
When we arrived, the school was quiet and nearly empty. I rushed the kids into the car and headed home. By then, the helicopter was flying near our house. I didn’t know it at the time, but the police were using a loudspeaker to tell everyone to get inside. I didn’t have to hear the message to know something serious was going down.
The streets were empty; my adrenaline was flowing and my fight-or-flight response kicked in. On the outside I did my best to remain calm for the kids, but inside I was beginning to panic. The next few minutes while they grabbed their backpacks, their lunch boxes, their water bottles, their jackets, their shoes, and their 187 art projects off the floor, dragged on for an eternity. By the time all three were outside standing on the driveway I was practically yelling at them to get in the house. By then, the helicopter was directly over our home. “I’m the ultimate hostage – a frazzled mom with three young kids, arms overloaded, making the long trek from the street up the never ending flight of stairs into our home. We’ll never make it!”
With the last child inside, I bolted the doors, shut the curtains, set the alarm, and waited by the windows until the helicopter flew away. Why didn’t I watch that damn video on how to barricade a door during a shooting? And why does this always happen when my husband is out of town? I searched for information on the helicopter online, but couldn’t find anything that seemed relevant. It wasn’t until the kids were in bed and sound asleep that the fear began to subside.
Sadly, over the course of the past year, there are more stories like this than I care to admit. One of the most frightening happened over the summer when I unknowingly walked into a real lockdown situation on my twins’ campus. I didn’t realize what was happening until I tried to open a classroom door and found it locked. Then I stood dumbfounded by the deafening silence. The entire campus of rambunctious pre-schoolers was completely quiet. Not a single sound. The police contained the incident off campus; it was over almost before it started. But those few minutes of recognition, standing in total silence, left an imprint on my soul that will be hard to erase.
As more and more of these occurrences stack up on a weekly basis, I realize the fear never really goes away. Not anymore. While I can still say it doesn’t rule our lives, I’m beginning to wonder how long that will last. For now, we don’t hesitate to do the things we love; we travel; we go to theaters and restaurants; we enter crowded public places and ride on public transportation. The difference is that the fear, once absent, comes with us, too. This is now the new normal.
This morning, as the kids piled into the car, their boundless energy took the form of pure joy. They sang about Santa, and dreidels, and a little light that shines. Every few feet of our drive were met with an enthusiastic shout, “A wreath!” “Christmas tree in the window!” “Lights!” They asked what I thought about the world being filled with sparkles and glitter from the ground to the sky. For a few minutes, on that short drive, the fear in my heart was replaced by overwhelming love and the world was filled with goodness and light once again.
Reflecting on the world as a dark and dangerous place seems like a somber way to ring in the New Year. I am also filled with hope. I can’t help but think 2016 will bring more opportunities to connect us as human beings — to simply demonstrate how similar we all are. Each and every one of us.
A stranger inspired me to start this blog. She reminded me how incredibly powerful the human connection is, and in an instance, her small act of kindness changed my perspective of the world around me. I hope as I meet more beautiful strangers and fill these pages with their photos and stories, it will inspire me to face my challenges with courage and confidence and to think more deeply about the way I respond to the people around me.
I hope the connections we all make in 2016 make the world a little less dark and a little less scary because really, we’re all in this together.