What incredible horror happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, on Friday. I can’t even fathom what would lead a person to commit such acts. How do we respond? What I can do is pray—for the families of the dead victims, for the other children and adults in that school, for all the responders in the community, from police and fire to the coroner and funeral directors. (As an aside, John and I owned a funeral home for nearly nine years and he was a county coroner before he attended seminary. We know that events like this would be beyond overwhelming and horrendous to handle.)
As a parent and grandparent, I know we hope and pray our children and grandchildren never face something like this. But can we create a society, a community even, that would be safe enough that something like this absolutely could not happen? I doubt it. And would we want to live in such a place? Such safety may sound attractive, but what would the cost be to our freedom and opportunity?
Something I read today in response to these events disturbs me and has made me think about this issue of safety. In today’s Arizona Republic, Karina Bland wrote:
"…nearly every day for nearly 10 years, I have driven my son to school and let him go. I watch until he and the other kids in the carpool are through the tall metal gates, even though he never looks back and waves anymore.
On Friday, the details from Newtown, Conn., spilled out, each worst than the last. Twenty children had walked through the school gates, just like always, but they wouldn’t be coming back out.
This, I should have been able to conceive of, too. It was, tragically, far from the first mass shooting. Still, it seemed impossible to fathom. I don’t care how many times it has happened in the years since Columbine; it is unthinkable.
If I had to think about it, imagine it, believe it could happen, I would never let my child out of my sight. None of us would."
I don’t accept this idea that absolute safety is best for us. We learn and grow through facing adversity and danger. Sometimes, we have to move forward into danger, just like the Sandy Hook principal and counselor did when they tried to stop the shooter. We have been immersed in our genealogy over the past several months. One common denominator was the freedom our ancestors had and took advantage of to follow their individual American dreams. They followed opportunities and were not limited by unreasonable considerations for safety.
My great grandfather was born in 1842 in England, moved to Belgium, then back to England, then emigrated to New York in the late 1860s and eventually moved his family to Colorado. In his later years, he moved to Oregon, where he died. John’s great grandparents moved from Ohio to Illinois in 1850, then to Texas before 1859. To avoid fighting on the Confederate side in the Civil War, they moved back to Illinois, then back to Texas after the war. Another of John’s great grandfathers moved from Ohio to Illinois about 1852. He fought for the Union Army in the Civil War, then moved his wife and children to the Montana Territory in 1868—before the Indians there were pacified. They later moved to Kansas. Their son married, then homesteaded in far western Kansas. My great grandmother immigrated to the US from Sweden about 1879—without her parents. John’s grandmother did the same in 1906, coming to this country with her sister to start a new life.
Why did these people move such great distances? Settle in such undeveloped areas? They weren’t seeking safety. In almost every instance, they left a safe place for an unknown life. They did it because of the opportunity offered in these new places.
I guess what I am dealing with in all of this is the thought that there is more to life than being safe. We can’t just ignore safety as we make plans and live life. But it can’t be the only consideration.
In 1975, John quit a secure, good-paying job where he was very successful so we could move to Castle Rock and buy his parent’s funeral home. It was a big risk. Neither of us had any idea how to run that business. We learned and it did well. Then, in 1984, we sold it so John could attend seminary and be ordained. Many of our friends couldn’t fathom how we would give up the financial security that business afforded. In 1997, John resigned from a successful position as parish rector and for the next six years we both worked less-than-fulltime or short-term jobs until retirement at the age of 60. And the year we both turned 66, we moved out of our house and began our full-time RV lifestyle. Opportunity, not safety, was the overriding consideration in each of these changes. And we don’t regret any of them.
The horror that happened in Newtown still haunts me. I hate it that my 7-year-old grandson had to ask, “Will that happen at my school?” But I also want him to have the freedom to walk down a street, ride his bike to the park, even attend school in another country in the years to come, if that is the opportunity he wants to pursue. I always felt I lived in a safe city (Denver, Colorado) growing up. I would like my grandchildren to feel the same sense of being safe. They don’t and won’t, perhaps not because life is less safe today but because we hear about every awful event that happens, anywhere in the world. But I don’t want the concerns about safety to shut them off from the opportunities that only come with freedom.