Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Night

As a mother, there are so many stories of violence and aggression in the world, that sometimes I worry that the fear and anxiety they cause may swallow me up whole, especially now that my baby is becoming a little boy- a little boy filled to the brim with curiosity and a spirit of exploration.  Right now he has no concept of how dark and lonely the world can be.  Within the confines of his minimal exposure to life he sees only goodness.  His day care report cards speak of a little boy who hugs and kisses everyone.

The domestic terrorism that occurred in Aurora, CO on Friday stings me on so many levels.  I continue to struggle in processing them all, so when life is joyful, I live it, when life is sorrowful, I write it.

My very first job was at a movie theatre.  Movie theatres have always been a sacred place for me.  Growing up, my dad struggled finding activities that would please both his sons and daughters across an 11 year age span so movies were always the answer.  Going to the movies is still one of the things I enjoy doing the most with my dad.  I remember fondly watching Shakespeare in Love with him and then talking for hours about literature.  Recently on a night when Trevor and I found ourselves blessed with a babysitter, on a night we could have done anything, we took in a double feature at the movie theatre near our house.  Walking into the theatre from the street, I felt the blast of cold air and the smell of popcorn wafting in the air.  Those feelings trigger deeply held happy memories of long ago days with my siblings and dad.  Looking up at the massive screen, sitting in an over-sized chair, eating popcorn from an over-sized bucket makes me feel like a kid again. 

I remember the first time I flew in a plane after 9/11.  It was December 23, 2001, just 3 months after that unspeakably tragic day.  I flew from NYC back to Michigan after my internship was over.  Suddenly something that had always felt so special seemed fraught with danger.  All of the security in the world couldn't take away that feeling that we were all in an incredibly vulnerable position sailing thousands of feet above the air.  I don't know when we will make it to the movies again.  Nights out are few and far between these days, but I know that looking at that dark room with the steep aisle will feel more foreboding now and less inviting.  Tiny exit doors will feel insufficient if danger arrives.  These feelings may subside, but for now they feel raw and deep.  That is what makes the events of July 20 acts of terrorism.  The vicious ripple effect that they cause through the fear they instill.

We all know by now that there were children & babies (as young as 4 months old) in the theatre that night.  As quickly as the details of that night emerged, the shock and anger at the nerve of these parents who dragged their children out at midnight to see a violent movie erupted.  I admit, I had those thoughts at first.  I had those thoughts until I saw an interview with the very young mother of the infant who was in the theatre that night.  It was difficult to make out her words through her sobs.  She talked about running to escape, about her young daughter tripping and falling and of her certainty that they would all be killed.  Her only plea to those running near her was to make sure her daughter got out safely, even if she had to stay behind and face the bullets.  I am a mother and I can say this on behalf of so many of us.  We often make foolish decisions, especially when we are exhausted, suffering from all forms of depression that frequently happen after pregnancy, and struggling with a sense of severe isolation.  That may cause some of us to wrap up our babies and head to a movie theatre late at night hoping that we feel human for just a little while again.  None of us could ever fathom that we'd be faced with such horror, forced to push our own children out of a theatre to save their lives at the cost of our own. I learned something very valuable from my rush to judgment of this very young, terrified mother.  We all live with the choices that we make for our babies, good and bad.  To be held up to such impossible criticism and judgment at a time when I am certain she is vilifying herself for bringing her children to Theatre 9 that night is unnecessary and undermines the need for all women to empathize with the choices we make as mothers.

My wise and wonderful friend Bobbie put it best when she wrote this response to a blog entry about ending the judgment of these families:
As parents, it's natural to point at things that "could have been prevented" in any bad situation. If we didn't think that way, if we really and wholly understood the chance of accidents that cannot be prevented happening to us and our children, we would be incapacitated. It's human nature to find things that you would do differently (or never do) to convince yourself that those tragic results could never happen to you and your family.
She so brilliantly summed up what I know we all do.  We all assume these things could never happen to us.  In the same way the parents of the young girl who was killed in the Tuscon, AZ shooting shouldn't blame themselves for taking their daughter to a grocery store that day.  These parents can't blame themselves for what happened to their children.  Whether it was a good or bad choice to bring a baby to a midnight showing of a movie is not up for debate in the court of public opinion right now.  These mothers will punish themselves long after the blogosphere quiets down.

But there are moments when I see the light through the darkness.  As the stories of the 12 victims were told, three stood out to me.  At least three young men died in the attack when they threw their bodies over their girlfriends.  I am certain more stories of heroism and courage emerge.

How strangely surreal it is that this massacre took place at a movie about heroes rising in a cold, dark world.  For that is exactly what happened on July 20 in Aurora.  Even in such a dark night, when for many of us the instinct would be to run, others stayed to protect and defend.  There are superheroes among us if we pick through the rubble of a devastating story like this to find them.  And it's in that faith that the grief I feel as a mother at the atrocities of this world won't swallow me whole or paralyze me with fear.

God grant me eyes to embrace the light, wisdom to learn from the dark, the ability to be present and active in my child's life to educate him on the full spectrum of who he shares this world with, good and bad.  May he learn these lessons slowly and over time.  Help me keep him a child for as long as I can.  Help me navigate these waters with faith.  Help us live every day of our lives.