Stephen Paddock didn’t afford us that luxury. With masterful cunning and methodical planning, he eliminated, as I write, 58 lives and wounded hundreds more. I can’t bear it when those who are taken from us in the most barbaric manner are left described as a statistic, a number hanging in our vague recollections until the next crazed gunman tries to top it.
The hopes and dreams interrupted, emails unreturned, coffee cups left in the sink. Fifty-eight who won’t receive birthday cards, or be flying home for Thanksgiving. Aging parents have lost the hands of the child who would steady them as they descended the front steps, and siblings, wretchedly acknowledging their childhoods have been taken away, will be helping to choose hymns and appropriate readings. And it will be a terribly long time before all those who knew and loved these people will be able to think of them without the persistent ache that now accompanies each memory of corny jokes told, petty arguments made, or sudden smiles flashed like the screens of their phones that littered the ground as the news of the horrific event was broadcast.
I didn’t know any of them. Only the name of the killer and that will fade soon. What I do know, and it may very well be a knee-jerk reaction, is a chilling realization that came over me while I drove my Mobile Meals route last week. Having exchanged the usual pleasantries, two of the folks I regularly visit, feeling the need, I suppose, to express their anxiety said essentially the same thing:
“Lord, all these shootings make me just want to stay in my house and not go anywhere, anymore.”
I agreed wholeheartedly. I felt the same sentiment and that’s what chilled me to my core. Because whenever America has been under attack by either the Taliban or ISIS, whether it be 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombers, I’ve been as ready as any fellow citizen to take a trip to those areas and boldly stride into the city, defiantly showing that I'm not scared and will bravely continue to live my life the way I always have. But for me at least, Stephen Paddock and his string of violent predecessors have succeeded where ISIS and the Taliban have failed. As statistics show that, on average, America suffers a mass shooting every sixty-four days, I no longer feel brave or defiant at all. I will now think twice before attending any open-air gathering, particularly in a city, whether it is a concert of a ‘Taste of Charlotte’ festival. I will look for easily accessible exits in theaters and will probably just wait to watch a new film at home when it comes out on Netflix.
I’m not proud of it and I abhor the thought that I’m willing, for the time being at least, to allow some of the freedoms I’ve taken for granted be taken away.
But I never, ever thought it would be by the hands of fellow Americans.