Though the days have been long, I was able to pull myself out of bed again at 4:30. I got home from work around 8:30 the night before. As I shrugged out of my jacket and put my wallet, keys, phone, and badge on the bench next to the door, I heard Clementine calling me from her bedroom. The kids were all in bed (in soft new pajamas), reading. I pretended I didn’t recognize them in their new pajamas—easy laughs—then listened as they told me stories about their days.
Clementine said she went to the zoo. When I called her on it, she told me she was, “just faking.” Though Sam had Field Day, he was tired, and I didn’t hear a lot about it. I gave them hugs, kisses, turned the lights out, got them sips of water, moved Clementine to our bed when she said she couldn’t sleep (because she took a nap) and a got her a book, ate leftover mac ‘n’ cheese and cold green beans (delicious, despite the description), made gin and tonics for Elise and I, sat down on the couch, not even bothering to change out of my work clothes; I knew I wouldn’t last long and all I wanted to do was talk to my wife.
The stresses of recent days have left both Elise and I perhaps feeling exposed. The kids (thankfully) have no idea what is going on in the world and don’t understand why we are on edge. And I am to keep it that way. In fact, one of my major goals as a parent is to let them be kids for as long as they can be, blissfully ignorant of all that goes on in the world. Despite an overwhelming need to hold my family close, when they go about their usual craziness, it takes Herculean effort to grant them the patience they deserve. I know it has been no more difficult to get them into bed or off to school than usual, though it seems that way.
I don’t know how to process my own feelings. I know Elise doesn’t either. It’s not something I can consciously do. I have nothing to say, no wisdom to impart, no meaning to parse into what has happened.
I know a lot of commentators have chimed in. I haven’t read a lot of their remarks, but I did hear those from Stephen Colbert:
“Naturally, we each ask ourselves what can you possible say in the face of this horror,” he said. “Then sadly you realize you know what to say because it’s been said too many times before. You have a pretty good idea of what most people are going to say. You know what a president, whoever it is, will probably say. You know what both sides of the political aisle will say. You know what gun manufacturers will say. Even me, with a silly show like this, you have some idea of what I will say. Because even I have talked about this when it has happened before. It’s as if there’s a national script that we have learned. And I think by accepting the script we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time. With nothing changing. Except for the loved ones and the families of the victims for whom nothing will ever be the same.
Colbert continued, saying it’s easy to be “paralyzed” by what he called “a monstrously hateful act,” “to despair and say, ‘Oh, well that’s the way the world is now.’”
But, he added, that mindset was a slippery slope to more trouble. “I don’t know what to do,” Colbert said. “But I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. Now these people in Orlando were apparently targeted for who they love. And there have been outpourings of love throughout the country and around the world. Love in response to hate. Love does not despair. Love makes you strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives up hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script.
“So love your country, love your family, love the families and the victims and the people of Orlando,” he said, closing the remarks. “But let’s remember love is a verb. And to love means to do something.”
For the last week and a half, the trains between two stations on my line have been single-tracking, taking an hour of my day I don’t have. Last night, as I headed west toward home, toward the sunset, I wondered what would happen next. I think about what happened exclusively through the lens of what it means for my kids, for Sam, Peter, and Clementine, who have no idea what happened or what politicians are saying about what happened and why.
What will happen next? What will come next? Another incident? More deadly and monstrous than the last? How many times can one condemn something in the strongest words? Invoke that superlative? Words can only be so strong, and the strongest words, too, only so strong. There is finite power in their strength, until the acts exceed our ability to condemn them. We will no longer have the vocabulary. Is this the world we live in now? The kids know no other way to get on a plan other than to take off your shoes. When overseas and kids didn’t have to take their shoes off anymore, we had to coach them out of taking off their shoes. The act had become so natural to them and they never questioned why they had to do it. They just did it as though it were a normal thing to have to do to ride on an airplane.
I got out of bed this morning and went for a run. I ran hard. I hurt my foot. I’ll have to ice it tonight and take tomorrow off. On my way home, the sun started to come up. It had been drizzling ever-so-slightly for the last mile or so, and as the sky turned golden, a full rainbow appeared in the sky, over the morning commute, amidst the cantaloupe-colored clouds. As all these thoughts were whirling in my head, as my feet were pushing me from below, trying to put miles between me and my thoughts, unsuccessfully, the answer appeared.
I fought back tears as it all became to clear. I wish you could have seen it.
And at that moment, I knew exactly what would happen. At mile 3.5, I knew Sam, Peter, and Clementine would be okay.
They would be just fine.