Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Too Soon

I do not know any of the victims. I’ve never met them, yet I can say with total clarity and confidence it was way too soon for any of them. 

Ask my daughter and she would’ve argued no, it was too soon for her best friend’s birthday party to be over. She’d bounced and ran and played skeeball, washed down chocolate cupcakes with pink lemonade, and begrudgingly witnessed the opening of presents that weren’t hers. We’d partied the allotted 150 minutes, gathering ourselves up and out the door only a couple of hours before the shootings began. I’d laughed with the birthday girl’s grandmother. She’d noticed the clock hanging on the wall covered in tiger-striped wallpaper. Its hands erratically raced around and around, as if the expression “time flies” had somehow become our present reality. 

A high school senior and his father, perusing a car lot on an unseasonably warm Saturday night. A former alternative-ed school teacher, and her sister-in-law and best friend. They shared a lot, including the same first name: Mary, derived in part from “beloved.” Another woman who retired after 22 years from Kellogg’s, a brand of cereal many of us stock and take for granted in our cupboards. A fourth woman, described as a sweet, sweet old lady who gave away herbs she grew in her garden. 

Too soon? Words often said after a joke in poor taste. How I wish, fingers crossed, with every beat of my heart, every cell left firing in my brain, that were the case this time. What happened was just some kind of sick joke. Or a horrible, fleeting nightmare. 

Earlier that morning I’d joined several hundred other community members for my church: running. We ran with the sun smiling down on us from a postcard sky; our course a handful of miles away from the apartment complex where one of the survivors lives. In a single week, the temperature had shot up from 2 degrees to 40. That’s Kalamazoo, Michigan for you, where if you stay long enough, too soon the weather will change.

An Uber driver who walked into a gun store earlier that day to buy a type of jacket designed to hide a gun. He had a favorable rating from his previous customers. He took fares before, during and after he began shooting strangers at random. He surrendered to police without incident. Not a moment too soon. 

Is it ever too soon to take up prayer? A church marquee simply reads, “Pray for our city.” My city. Your city. Our city. I admit I’m not one who’s easily swayed by prayer, but I am praying. I hope it isn’t too late.

These two little words, part of the comments a peer scrawled across a story I’d written back in grad school. It’s been a decade and his dismissal of too soon still irks me. My writing may have been premature, perhaps immature is a better word, but I refuse to believe it was too soon for the story itself. Sometimes when you feel, you must write for the sake of the welcome release of what you feel. Timing be damned.

Two other victims who remain alive, one a 14-year-old girl in critical condition. A miracle. She squeezed her mother’s hand. The last a woman enjoying some rare February sunshine on a playground, shot in front of her daughter, a niece and three other children. A hero. She saved the kids by screaming run and throwing her body in front of the gunman. 

I agree. Guns are only part of the tragic equation. In this particular tragic equation, the shooter “liked guns.” Reportedly, he owned 11 of them. He fired at least 30 rounds at his victims with one 9mm semi-automatic gun. According to the CDC, one person in the U.S. is killed by a firearm every 17 minutes. So if you ask me, and even if you don’t, it isn’t too soon to say to hell with our right to bear arms.

My cousin from out of state had arrived for another visit. We went for a beer at a local brewery, out for pizza, my daughter wound up looking like she’d bathed in parmesan cheese, we came home and put her to bed, we watched Indiana take on Purdue in basketball, a heated rivalry (my cousin cares nothing about basketball, but he was a good sport about it), national headlines on our iPhones proclaimed that Trump had won and Hillary had won. I was shocked, not life-and-death shocked, I had no clue who Jason B. Dalton was or what he was doing all that time we went about our happy, oblivious business, but surprised about Bush. He’d suspended his campaign. It seemed too soon to surrender. Now that information seems so worthless.  

Is it too soon to mention the other lives this man has obliterated? Wives, sisters, sons, husbands, daughters, best friends, old classmates, coworkers, neighbors, grandparents, cousins, strangers. He left a wife and two kids to face unimaginable sorrow. I can’t stop myself from thinking about the 17-year-old’s girlfriend, too, both lucky and unlucky to have stayed behind in the car.

While it can be too late to say “I love you,” it can never be too soon. I was born here. I will go on living and loving here.