When I was a little girl I used to have these paralyzing almost panic attacks when my parents were late to pick me up (which is completely weird considering they were almost always late, so you’d think I would have expected it).
But no, I’d be standing beside the curb, as long lines of cars idled forward, doors slid open, children piled in, and off they went. Until it was just me, the lone sentinel, standing before an empty concrete expanse…at least that’s how it feels to a melodramatic nine year old.
And in ten seconds flat I’d go from bereft child with late parents to inconsolable orphan: They were dead. I was convinced. They’d gotten in some horrible accident on their way to get me, and I’d never speak to them again. What was the last thing I said to them? How long would I be left here? What would I tell my sister?
I’d be fighting back tears before I got control of my own mind and started walking back from the edge of the cliff. They’re probably fine. You can’t change anything by worrying about it. They’re fine.
And then I’d see their head lights round the corner, and I could really breathe again.
When I took my psychological exam for junior acceptance into the bible program at ACU, my results came back as “normal, but with heightened levels of anxiety” – color me surprised. I blame my family; we are an anxious and emotional people.
All that to say that I’ve spent my whole life unlearning that instant panic.
And then, around 12:30 this afternoon:
The air conditioning blasted away the stifling heat as I sang my way back to work with Fun. playing from my iPhone. I was forming dinner plans when I approached the intersection of Wellbourn & George Bush* and noticed something amiss: a man stood on the median with a camera, police had the road blocked off, their cars casting a frantic red-blue-red-blue light over the scene. I counted two, three, four flashing vehicles before I turned right and continued to work. I’m pretty sure the ideas really, really bad car accident and that’s the road to David’s house flashed through my mind as I processed the scene.
I sent him a quick text message, super casual, hey, how’s your day going? (Read subtext: Just making sure you’re alive, only mild panic happening over here.)
He replied quickly: His day was fine, but there was a shooter on** campus. Be careful.
Really? A week ago in Wisconsin. The week before in Colorado. How bad will it be this time? Do we not get a break? How many more days will we have to lower our flags?
And now there are three more caskets to fill.
And Sarah Bessey wrote this beautiful piece last week: It was like my heart just sat down. And I think maybe my heart needs to sit down, too.
I know in some ways those three incidents are so different, and we don’t know much about what happened in College Station today, but I’m so sick of the shooting. Because unlike earthquakes and illness, we could just stop shooting each other. I’m not naive enough to think that will ever happen. But, seriously, we could all, right now, just not pick up a gun. And we would never have to have this discussion again.
But the world doesn’t work that way. We will all face our own mortality. And sometimes that will be at the hand of another person, a person filled with hate or fear or hopelessness. We aren’t promised that the people we love will always be there to pick us up.
So tonight after work, I’m going to go over to David’s apartment and cook something delicious out of this wonderful Homesick Texan Cookbook that my dear friend gave me for Christmas.
And then I’ll go home and stay up too late catching up with another one of my precious friends who is finally back in town, if only for 24 hours.
And I will be so incredibly grateful, because they are alive and I am alive. And I get another day to spend with them.
And I will say a prayer, however cliche that may sound, for three families grieving tonight. Because three people won’t be coming home, and someone was probably waiting for them.
*Incidentally, this is the very intersection where those who received alerts were told not to go, because I would go driving straight into a crime scene.
**The shooter turned out to be near campus, not on campus. The difference was only four lanes wide, however. So I think the motive inherent in those words matters more than the geography.