Friday, March 7, 2008


We drove to Phoenix Arizona last night. We got in at about 5 AM, and we crashed out almost immediately. Shawna woke me late this morning, telling me that something was going on across the street.

"There are cops all over the place."

I crawled out of bed, threw on a sweatshirt, and went out into the yard to see what was going on. There were at least fifteen police cars parked haphazardly up and down the block, fire engines and an ambulance just inside the caution tape blocking off the cul-de-sac.

"A guy just drove by and told me I should get the kids inside," Shawna said, "because there's been a shooting. The shooter is still on the loose he said."

She took the kids inside, and watched from the backyard as I stood on the sidewalk, gazing across the street at the activity. A middle-aged guy in painters whites was pacing up and down the sidewalk just outside the caution tape, yelling unintelligibly into a cell phone. I watched him for a few minutes, trying to piece things together.

Suddenly, I heard screeching tires down the block. A small sedan came screaming around the corner, and careened it's way down the block, and pulled up to the corner. The woman driving threw it in park, and jumped out, car still running, and grasped, screaming, at the painter.

I realized that he was crying too. He stood there for a few seconds, weeping, trying desperately to hold up the screaming woman. Then he gently pulled her toward the front yard that seemed to be the hub of the police activity. As he lifted the caution tape to lead her over, the paramedics closed up the empty ambulance, and slowly crawled in; no work for them here. The woman saw, and collapsed, screaming uncontrollably to the sidewalk, that "it's not fair! My baby-O God, my baby..."

My heart turned to lead.

And at that moment, I realized that this is a sad truth: we are all hopelessly alone. How must it feel to receive a call from your husband that something's happened to your son and granddaughter, and to rush over-just in time to see the empty ambulance drive slowly away, and the "Incident Clean-Up" team drive up.

And to run toward the milling officers, hoping beyond hope that, perhaps, there's been some mistake, only to find that your deepest fears have all come to pass--that your 33 year-old son has shot and killed your 3 year-old granddaughter, before turning the gun on himself.

And as the waves of despair crash cruelly over you, enveloping you, you crumple, keening, to the sidewalk, and suddenly the crowds of people all about you recede into the background. The condolences are empty; the caring touches from strange men and women in dark uniforms are almost cruel in their disconnectedness.

It's just you, alone in your miserable despair. Because nobody else feels what you feel; the caring looks, and words, and touches, are driven more by a profound sense of thankful relief--that this is happening to somebody--anybody--else but them, and that, more than anything, distances these people from you.

And all around, life goes on; a male jogger on his middays run looks down the road as he jogs by, and continues his run. A woman in a black SUV, coming home for lunch, slows as she drives down the street, pulls into her driveway, and goes inside her house just up the street to eat her tuna salad sandwich. A family staying with relatives just across the street dresses, and goes off to have lunch. Detectives knock on doors, asking polite questions of residents up and down the street. Newsmen arrive, and begin inerviewing witnesses, and videoing your misery.

And you, only moments ago a contented mother and grandmother, weep quietly now. Because it'll never be the same. And nobody understands but you.

You're hopelessly alone.

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