Sometimes when really bad and tragic and scary stuff happens, I try really hard to keep it on the periphery. Like when the student-athlete rapist got that shit sentence. I only vaguely knew the story for a long time. I scrolled past stories on Facebook, deliberately not diving in to get the details. Same with any of the racially charged killings by white cops, murders of trans people, refugee crises, and church and school shootings. I know about them — but not the details. They’re like photos with intentionally blurred backgrounds. I keep the sharp focus on my family, my life, my kid, my job.
Eventually, when the initial wave of trauma passes, I look for details. Search news archives, google images of things from months past. I find out the story, but only after the world has stopped acutely grieving.
This time was no different. I’d scrolled past articles and posts and hashtags last night and all morning. Another shooting. Terrorism. A nightclub. Far away. Not here. And that was all I knew for hours. For some reason, though, I sharpened the image sooner.
This afternoon, The Who and I went to Panera for lunch. While he was up at the register ordering and paying for his brownie, I quickly scrolled through Facebook. Yesterday was Pride in Philly and friends of mine posted photos of their families marching in the first parade we have skipped in years. There were all the queers and allies they were smiling in the photos like they always do, but the joy was missing. And then something caught my eye. The word “Orlando” in rainbow colors. I hadn’t noticed before then that this far away tragedy, this remote incident of terrorism was at a gay bar. In my hasty scrolling until then, I hadn’t realized that this was a direct hit. I clicked on one of the stories and in the five short minutes that The Who was off buying his dessert, I brought myself fully up to speed. And then, somehow, when he came back, it felt like I was keeping something from him. He knows so much about so much already. He does harder math problems in his head than I can do. He told me the other day about a rule of baseball I had never known. He’s understood artificial insemination since he was three.
“A really sad and scary thing happened yesterday,” I told him as he took a monster bite of his frosted brownie. He looked at me earnestly, his mouth ringed in chocolate. “What happened?” he asked. So I told him. I told him about terrorists and what it means to want to make people afraid. And about hatred and fear and ignorance. About intolerance and anger and impulsivity. Gun control. Politics. Airports. 9/11. Choices. Fear. Love. Goodness. It was a much deeper conversation than I had expected when we set out for a casual mac-n-cheese date an hour earlier.
He asked a lot of questions. “Why didn’t they rebuild the World Trade Center?” “What happened to the terrorists? Did they go to jail for the rest of their lives?” “Did you know anyone who died in the nightclub?” “Did any of the runners die in the marathon bombing or just people watching?” And then: “You and Mommy are so lucky you don’t live in Orlando. If there was someone here who wanted to kill people just because they loved someone who was the same gender, you could have been killed.” So we talked about luck. And location. And fear some more.
“Why would anyone want to kill people just because they’re gay?” he asked on our way to the car. I answered him, as I always do, as honestly and directly as I could, but it was hard when I didn’t have all the answers. “I don’t know why terrorists do the things they do,” I told him and I was reminded of something we recently heard on a kids’ science podcast about space being infinite. About how no matter how far out you go, you will always be able to go further. That just when you think you’ve gotten to the end of space, more space has been created as you’ve been traveling and so there’s even more. And more. And more. The idea of infinity is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. And this is why, I think, I scroll by the stories. Why I keep the edges blurry. The more I know, the longer I think about it, the closer I get to understanding, the clearer it becomes that there actually is no end. Every time I think I’ve heard the worst, steeled myself against the worst, thought about the worst thing that could ever happen, I find that more happened while I was traveling.
Not wanting to leave The Who with the same sense of despair that I have, I thought about Fred Rogers and his comment on looking for the helpers. I reminded him that the good thing — the thing that we can hold onto — is that even though there are these terrible people and these terrible things, the world has way, way, way more good in it than bad. “Yeah,” he said, eagerly. “Like, there’s probably only a million bad people in the world, but there are 7 billion people in the whole world. That’s like barely any bad people when you think about it.” His pragmatism is staggering sometimes. Maybe I can find a way to take a page out of his book.