One day last August, I dashed across the street to grab a coffee. My latte and the NYC café that sells it are as comforting and essential to me as Seinfeld’s diner was to him and his cronies.
But that day, the café was hardly a scene of solace. As I paid for my drink, the fretting owner told me and other customers what he had heard on the radio: that multiple people had been shot near the Empire State Building.
“My son just headed over there — he works in Herald Square,” I mumbled to the cashier, a young man from Guatemala who loves his New York City life. I immediately found myself in the narcissistic grip of maternal fear, the kind that steals your breath while robbing you of your capacity to think about anyone but your own child.
As quickly as I could make my thumbs move, I texted my younger son: “Just heard about the shooting, r u ok?” While anxiously waiting for a response, I tried to focus on how minuscule the odds of anything negative happening really were. But as hard as I tried to dismiss my instinctive response by framing it as an overblown, post-traumatic reaction to 9/11, I couldn’t deny the fact that shootings and their grim aftermath are no longer random or rare.
For 10 or so people walking in midtown Manhattan that Friday, “minuscule odds” would translate into trauma and tragedy. Today, with the Newtown elementary school shooting, small odds became huge.
Last August, it turned out, thankfully, that the only justification for my uneasy feeling about my son was how truly logical my fear about it was. He was fine. “Yeah, I’m OK. Where did that happen?” he texted back within minutes, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
But the real-life situation for many other parents today was quite different; the messages they received were devastating. We now have to accept that while most days blessedly go by without our children being harmed, they are still very much in harm’s way.
Now we all, no matter where we live, must second-guess whether we can be safe at a movie, a mall, at school or on a sidewalk.
There is a common fear of being caught in the crosshairs. We are experiencing an excruciating new state of vulnerability that’s distinct from the horror that results from learning about, for example, plane crashes, floods and earthquakes.
The Newtown school shooting and other recent incidents in which guns killed and maimed belong to a different category of threat. In these cases, it is both possible and warranted to ask if and how the event could have been prevented.
And so tomorrow, as I sip my morning latte, I will ask myself if I, a member of a generation known for shaping solutions to challenging problems, might be able to help put a stop to the tragic trend that is erasing life and peace of mind for us all.
How to Reverse a Violent Trend
Boomers have a legacy of coming together and supporting one another in tough times, a history of transcending partisan perspectives and clashing opinions to repair what is broken and make things better. We’ve championed individual freedoms, triumphed over external enemies and toppled barriers to self-expression.
But we’re entering a period in which our sense of liberty is shrinking because our personal safety is. This is what happens in the wake of generalized wariness and vulnerability. There’s no doubt that the factors fueling the recent criminal rampages are complex — most everyone reading this could rattle off numerous social ills and failed systems that allow unstable personalities to emerge and batter us.
These gnarly issues may seem impossible to unravel. But boomer history has shown us that it’s in our DNA to tackle and resolve big problems — especially when it comes to upholding the sanctity of values we know we share.
My contribution begins with these words — airing concern and launching discussion certainly feels better than ducking and dodging. And that’s a start. But what can you do? Will you pose the same question and ponder possible actions, even small ones, that draw on your personal strengths and insights?