Sunday, June 03, 2012

"Do Not Be Afraid"

A couple days ago I wrote about a big city tragedy, a horrific episode that has been at least part of every conversation I've had, both face-to-face and online during the past couple of days. It's seems both surreal and comforting that after the emotions of the last couple days over a tragedy that hit closer to home than most (my daughter's school was put on lock down, two of the victims ran in social circles that overlap my own, all the events took place within a geography in which I live my day-to-day life) that things, for me and my loved ones, are already returning to normal.

As soon as I'm done writing this, for instance, I'm cycling over to Bed, Bath & Beyond to do a little household shopping. 

Many of the people with whom I've interacted about this, people who don't live in a city, have made comments about the hazards of city life, about how they're glad they live in a rural area or a small town where "these things don't happen," about how happy they are that they've moved to a suburb and away from the "freaks" one sees on the city sidewalks. That's fear talking of course, just as my rant the other day was fear talking, and while fear is a reasonable response, it's also, like all emotions, prone to irrationality. Knowing what is reasonable and what is irrational is almost impossible until well after the fact. 

For the past two days, I've been meeting Woodland Park parents at our school for our annual year-end cleaning, with every family committed to 2 hours of work to organize and gussy things up before the start of our summer session. Our conversations touched upon recent events, but by no means did it dominate our talk. Of course, we talked much more about our kids. At one point we got on the topic of our children's irrational fears like ponies, crowds, and swimming pools. We grinned and chuckled about them in the privacy of our adult-only enclave, not because we were dismissing them, but rather because  we have the perspective to know that these fears will likely fade with time and experience. We were able to chuckle because when it comes to fears there is really only one objective truth: the difference between my phobias and yours is that mine make sense.

In the heart of a city still raw from tragedy, I spent the evening on my balcony, one story above the street, the cheerful bell of the South Lake Union Trolley (you can buy t-shirts that say, "I rode the SLUT) ringing just below me at regular intervals. People walking dogs and pushing strollers passed along our street's allee of chestnuts, now in full, rustling leaf. The warmish evening air lazily carried the high spirited laughter of groups and couples on their way to drinks and dinner. From across the street where there is a nice lawn, a pair of kickball games were in progress, punctuated by cheers and cries of, "Hustle, hustle, hustle!" I was puttering around out there, in the midst of a Saturday night in the city, tending the plants we keep in pots, pruning in meticulous snips, occasionally sitting for a bit to watch the passing scene of cars, pedestrians, and bicycles. The air tasted clean, as it often does here in our city, having been earlier cleaned by the rain.

A little farther afield I watched the elevators carrying tourists to the top of The Space Needle, our city's best known symbol of confidence and hope, a emblem of fearlessness and pride about the future built the year I was born for the 1962 World's Fair. In the other direction are the headquarters of PATH, a nonprofit organization committed to tackling disease and health issues around the globe, working to relieve people of their suffering and fear. And, of course, there are two churches right here as well, across from Denny Park, both of which are daily active in feeding, sheltering, and loving the people who have come to live on our streets, making their lives a little more tolerable. I reflected on the two days I've spent connecting with the families of Woodland Park, working together, building, shoulder-to-shoulder.

I could no more move to the country than I could give up teaching. I need to be among all these people doing good, being good, working together, playing together, building, and creating: it's in close proximity with them that I can most easily set my fears aside, not forgetting them exactly, but putting them in perspective, knowing that all these people, these "freaks," can't be wrong. This is a good world, full of good people, doing good things together.

I find the city, my city, to be an affirmation that rises above any measly fear. It's the other people, friends and strangers alike, who simply by living their good lives, put their metaphorical hands upon my shoulders and say, "Do not be afraid."

And now I'm off to buy those household items in the heart of the city.

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Naomi Foster said...

I understand your feelings, Teacher Tom. I live in Tucson, AZ. Just over a year ago, we experienced a tragedy that rocked the entire town. There was fear, anger, grief, and disbelief. But most of all, there was a banding together of neighbors and a strong sense of community. That spells 'home' to me.

jackie said...

I believe I have a good grip on my irrational fears: I'm not a "helicopter parent", I don't let fear rule our lives, and while I'm not as lenient as some, I do give my boys more freedom and independence than many other parents I know. And even in light of the recent shootings at the Toronto Eaton Center (an hour East of here), I talked to my boys about the tragedy and the reality that things like this can and do happen, but that we can't let them affect what we do and how we live our lives.
Then, this morning, I learned that the 13 year old boy, who was shot in the head in the Eaton Center tragedy, was in fact a boy from our town, a boy who hangs in some of the circles that my oldest son does, a boy who was in the city for a day of shopping with his family, the son of a guy I went to high school with, and I'm numb. You tell yourself it can't, it won't happen to you and your loved ones; that it can't and won't affect the way you live your life and raise your children, and then it hits this close to home.
Just the other day, my son had asked if he and a friend could go into the city together and stroll around one day this summer while I (or his friend's mother) did something on their own. I said "yes", and thought, knowing his maturity level, his sound sense of direction and that he's a really responsible kid, that this was something I was ready to let him do. I remember doing that as a teenager - it was kind of a right of passing - strolling around the Eaton Center without your parents by your side for the day.
But I have to admit, as much as I have vowed to not let irrational fears control me, that I am seriously re-considering whether or not I'm ready to take this step.

Kelly said...

I never did understand this "can't happen here" mentality. "It" can happen anywhere, anytime we do not take care of one another. Beautiful post, thank you.