I watch my daughters jump the waves, their skin turning a deeper and deeper bronze with each hour. The energy they have. The pure, unadulterated joy of the moment, the largest waves eliciting screams of delight.
I’ve warned them about rip tides. Explained the importance of staying close together, not venturing out too deep. They heed me, but it doesn’t stop them from reveling in the joy of the moment.
They’re brave little ones, these children of mine. Like many–most?–kids who’ve lived in relative safety.
On my mind since it happened has been another child, not much older than my oldest daughter. A child who by all appearances had an otherwise normal childhood. Until one day, two classmates walked into his classroom with guns, and this child did what he’d been trained to do. He ran at them, likely saving his classmates in the act.
But this child? He’s dead. Snatched from his friends, his family, his innocence, his future. His parents are living all parents’ worst nightmare. They live while he has gone.
Social media called him a hero, a child who gave up his life for the other children. His picture was plastered all over my social media for a day or two. He was indeed a hero.
But is that any comfort to his parents? More to the point, why did he have to be?
Heroes protect their comrades and nation’s values in wars. Heroes save other in natural and man-made disasters. Heroes make a knowing choice to risk their safety for others’ sakes.
But what kind of country are we becoming when we plan for our children to have to lay down their lives for their classmates? We train them for it. When did this ultimate sacrifice become the price of participation in school? Or for that matter, at concerts and other public places?
When something–a behavior, a thing–proves to be dangerous, we pass laws to mitigate the risk. Car crashes can be deadly, hence driving tests and age limits and safety belts and speed limits and rules for right of way. It doesn’t mean crashes don’t happen, but it means they are fewer, and less fatal when they do happen. Ditto for drinking alcohol. Or drugs. Even fireworks. Or going through airport security, and being forbidden to do certain things on, or bring certain things onto, an airplane. We accept these rules because they keep us safer.
There was a time, in the wild west, when danger lurked in each new encounter, and law enforcement was nonexistent or unreliable. People had to be extremely self-sufficient when it came to their own and their loved ones’ safety. But we are not in the lawless west and this is not the 1800s. So why do we continue to insist on believing that we do?
One day, I believe, we will have the collective moral spine to vote into office people who will pass laws to make our children–and all of us–safer from those who shouldn’t have weapons, but can and do. Until then, we can only pray that our children, our live-in-the-moment, joy-knowing, innocent, brave children, will live to see their next school vacation and play in the ocean again.