“Daddy, I don’t want to get ‘shooted,'” my daughter randomly said on Sunday, as the sudden fear in her tiny voice pierced through the pleasant aura of our jovial post-church activities.
I looked down in shock as her big, brown eyes stared up at me in a mixture of worry and uncertainty. I was immediately frozen, wondering how my 5-year-old had learned anything about guns, bullets or being “shooted.”
“What do you mean, honey?” I said, fervently trying to conceal the sudden horror that had crept up inside of me.
My kindergarten daughter went on to explain that one of the boys at school told her and other kids that “a mean boy hurt students at his school.”
Here she was, a little girl whose innocence was being shaken — a child too young to even comprehend the proper tense of the word “shoot,” yet old enough to know that it should elicit fear inside of her. It was a profoundly disturbing moment that I simply wasn’t prepared for.
It was truly one of those dreaded parenting experiences where you have no choice but to instantaneously dive deep, think hard and hastily prepare your response, all while your kid, who still can’t tie her shoes let alone understand the problem of evil, waits for a reassuring response that tames her fears and answers her curiosities.
As my wife and I stared at one another uncertain of what to say next, yet absolutely positive that we had to respond, I said, “Honey, sometimes bad people do not-so-nice things.” We proceeded to explain that the school shooter did, indeed, hurt others and that many people are saddened by his horrible actions.
This didn’t seem to squash her fears, though, as she repeatedly asked if she would be safe.
“Honey, nothing is going to happen to you. Your school is safe,” I said, assuring her that she would be absolutely fine no matter what, while simultaneously trying to convince myself that what I was saying was true. “The man who did this is in jail, and he can’t hurt anyone now.”
With that, a relieved smile crossed my kid’s face; her daddy and mommy had promised her that everything would be alright. She went on to play with her toys, while my wife and I remained unsettled — not only by the fact that our baby was asking such difficult questions far too early in her short life, but also over the fact that I knew I wasn’t telling the truth in affirming her future safety.
Is my daughter really safe at school? Are any of our children really safe? Are there other madmen out there so mentally ill or filled with evil that they’ll hurt our loved ones?
All of these questions weighed heavily on my heart, as I felt a pit in my stomach for the remainder of the day. It hurts my soul that my child was filled with such visible fear, and it continues to pain me to see the victims of the Florida shooting — among other recent tragedies — being forced to deal with the aftermath of such palpable evil.
At the same time, the nation is being twisted and turned into ideological chaos, as the public laments and grapples with potential solutions to our gun woes. From gun control to school security, there’s no shortage of proposals for fixing the problem. In the end, though, I know one thing for certain: We absolutely can and must do better for our children.
We’re so embroiled in tribalism and talking points that we’ve lost our humanity.
It’s blatantly unacceptable that we’re living in a world in which children, churchgoers, moviegoers and others have to second-guess their safety at every turn. And it is unimaginable that so many of our kids have been gunned down in classrooms and pews, as their futures and destinies are wiped away with the mere pull of a trigger.
When will the chaos stop? How can we slow it down? In a world in which thoughts and prayers are often given a bad name, there’s a painful irony: the very God who created us and loves us holds the power to change our hearts. The more we reject that reality, the less hope we have. Prayers matter. Evil abounds. We have a choice.
Even if people reject that blatant reality — the idea that fixing hearts it the true antidote — it’s time for both sides of the gun debate to at least simmer down, come to the table and dialogue. We’re so embroiled in tribalism and talking points that we’ve lost our humanity. I don’t know if policies and proposals will help us, but it’s time to at least calmly discuss perspectives from both sides without using horrific labels and divisive language aimed at diminishing and isolating opponents.
It’s far past time for us to better address mental health, to fix any loopholes and to better secure our schools. It’s time for this nation to start acting like a collective whole and not a loosely affiliated collection of parts that have no interest in functioning together.
No small child should have to fear being harmed in his or her school or place of worship; no parent should be faced with seeing the life they created and fostered be snuffed out by a maniac. We need heart change in this country at the individual and collective level. That is the only sure-fire way of helping curb these attacks. It starts with prayer and a return to God.
But we also need productive and functional dialogue, which means that we must stop demeaning one another. One side calls the other a “constitution hater,” while the other feels perfectly comfortable chanting “Murderer!” to anyone who dares support the NRA. This is unacceptable and unwarranted. We’re better than this — we have to be: our nation’s future and our kids’ safety depend on it.
Let’s all drop the hate, contain ourselves, sit down and fix this mess before more families are forced to bury their children. My little girl’s response broke me and, as a result, I’m committing to hear both sides out. Will you join me? Let’s be better.