A little over a week ago, something completely unexpected took place in my quiet suburban neighborhood. I want to share with you, not so much "what" happened, but how it affected me, and how society is affected by guns, both good and bad.
So it was a typical Friday night. I stopped by Ross to grab a couple of things for my house. The parking lot was busy, but not packed as I walked back out to my car. The typical hum of cars and people was interrupted by a man's voice screaming out. "Get down! Get down!" Of course, I couldn't help but look in the direction of the verbal command. The tone of the man's voice was terrifying. Not only was it loud, but the tension was thick. Heck, I wanted to drop to the ground. That's the moment that I realized that one isle over, two officers driving under cover police vehicles had boxed in a car and were trying apprehend a suspect. The suspect in the situation, instead of complying, backed his car into the officer's vehicle and began pushing it back in hopes of escaping. Seconds later, shots were fired. At this point, I didn't have a perfect line of sight, and all I knew was that shots were fired. Then, once again, one of the officers yelled. "Get Down, Get down.!" At that moment, it hit me that they might have been speaking to us, those in the parking lot. I quickly retreated to the entrance of Ross and watched the scene unfold while ready to hide in the store if there was danger. a mother and her teenage daughters were standing in the doorway with me, and we began to talk to one another.
"Those were gun shots, right?" we ask each other. It seemed a surreal thing. Police didn't shoot people in my town, at least not in public. Overhead, a police helicopter circled and in the distance sirens wailed confirming that yes, we'd just witnessed an officer shooting at a suspect. When things were quiet for a minute and I felt comfortable that no madman with a gun was on the loose, I thought it would be best to leave before the police showed up. I didn't want to bog down the parking lot or get stuck in a crime scene when I could see that there were others with a better view than I had to act as witnesses. Besides, there was another woman who looked terrified who had somehow made her way from a car near the shooting and was trying to get out of the situation.
"Can I give you a ride somewhere?" I offered. Odd isn't it, that in crisis, we either turn towards or away from one another. She gratefully accepted my offer to be taken to a different location where her husband would pick her up. She was trembling as I opened the passenger's side door for her.
We exchanged names, but honestly, I don't remember her name but in my mind I can see with perfect clarity her wide eyes and shaking hands. So that is the quick version of my experience. The violence was mild compared to what we see on TV and in the movies and yet it left me genuinely shaken, and not just in the few minutes after I left.
Once I came home, my adrenaline did settle down, but for nearly three days, I found myself thinking about the experience, feeling my stomach knot up whenever i heard the sounds of sirens. I researched the incident on the news. I had to know what happened. My mind struggled to make sense of how I felt. I found myself tensing, even feeling nauseous when I even considered going back to that shopping center which is literally down the road from my house. In fact, I forced myself to go back several days later, to take back my stores and not let the terror of that night control how I felt.
I know this is a long post, but I want to leave with one last thought. I had one scary and shocking night in my typically safe, family neighborhood and it profoundly affected me, at least for a few days and probably every time I return to that store. How then do people feel when gunfire is common their neighborhood, or after a child witnesses a school shooting. Imagine the fear and distrust that develops as a coping mechanism for those who witness violence and death, particularly those can't escape it in their daily lives. Surely, coping mechanisms must develop changing who they are and worst of all, who can will become. And it leaves me with this question, if so many are both physical victims and also emotionally traumatized as witnesses of gun violence, what can be done, and how can we create a better world where our children and we ourselves can feel safe in our homes, neighborhoods and communities. Any thoughts?