The following was originally published in the Fargo Forum.
I always look forward to writing these columns. They’ve been free license for me to praise my son, revel in the everyday joys of parenting or just share a fun story. But today I woke up to the news of 50-plus lives lost and hundreds more wounded and fighting to stay alive. Not overseas on some battlefield, but here at home. Again.
Nothing is fun today. Today, I’m overcome with sadness.
I’m sad for the lives lost, the families crushed with grief and the inevitable missed opportunity for change we’re about to see our leaders piss away without even a first thought of our children who are looking for explanation and context to the scenes they’re witnessing.
We’re going to hear the line “now’s not the time” repeated in various ways for weeks to come… just long enough for the news cycle to jump to the next gossip column story that will be of no relevance other than to distract us from this horror. “Now” is not the time to get emotional about everything.
Not the time? For whom is this not the time? I know my son is two and his attention span is entirely limited to “now,” but kids of all ages are going to want to know what the hell is going on… and “now” is when they expect answers. “Now” is when any politician who is a parent should want to be able to comfort, console and communicate with their most important constituents.
When I was about 12 years old, my friend Josh and I took advantage of a somewhat dreary midsummer day at the lake to go blow off some leftover Fourth of July fireworks. To keep our mischief out of earshot, we walked down the private dirt road away from my grandparents’ trailer, past the three or four cottages that always sat sad and vacant near the curve in the road that led out to the main highway. There, nobody would disturb our private pyrotechnic show.
Things got off to a great start. The bottle rockets were flying high and true. The whistlers were screeching out patriotism. Even the firecrackers were popping off with distinction. We couldn’t believe our luck — not a dud in the bunch.
Then, the inevitable, obvious, “you should have known better” result of mixing combustibles with drought-like conditions happened. I caught a whiff of smoke, looked up and spotted the small grass fire that was quickly spreading in the field on the other side of the dirt road.
Had we been better prepared, we may have thought to bring along a bucket of water. But we were the opposite of prepared. We were 12. So we scrambled around, desperately searching for something with which to dowse the flames. On the deck of one of those vacant cabins, we found an old, half-used citronella candle — the kind that comes in a little metal bucket — and decided this was our best bet to save the world.
As my buddy shuttled tiny, half-filled “buckets” of water from the lake to the fire, I – being the calm and collected one – frantically tried to stomp out the fire with my feet. Eventually, our persistence paid off and the fire was out within a matter of minutes. You couldn’t even see the charred patch of evidence from the road. We were home free and the world was safe once again.
So what’s the point? Well, I write this on Monday, October 2 — the morning after the massacre in Las Vegas, and I can’t tear my thoughts away from my son and the world he is currently oblivious to, but will one day be forced to reckon with as his awareness expands.
Thoughts of his childhood always bring me back to my own, and I can’t help but compare the two and feel sad. Today, the memory of that grass fire bubbled up to the surface, because at the time it was one of the most traumatic and fear-inducing moments of my life. But it was my own fault. And that’s what makes me sad today.
The things I had to worry about were the results of my own stupidity. I was afraid of missing curfew and talking to girls. I wasn’t afraid of concerts and public spaces. I never feared for my life at the hands of strangers. What child should have to? Today, it seems any child with access to a screen or a newsfeed.
I wish I had answers and great ideas, but I don’t. Instead, I am stuck. On a day when we should all come together, I feel isolated – consumed by the idea that my son is going to grow up in a world where fear is expected and inaction is accepted. Perhaps “now” is not the time to get emotional. But if not now… when?