On collective grief and irrational fear

I hesitated to write about what happened on Friday.  I am still not going to write about it.  But I am going to write a little about the national response to it.  Not the call for gun control changes or mental health care – I’ll let other people argue those.  I’m going to write about “collective grief” and people who are paralyzed by fear after seeing the news story.

There is a wonderful episode of “Rescue Me” where Dennis Leary’s character (a firefighter who was at the World Trade Center and lost his cousin there) goes to a support group for survivors of 9-11.  All these people in the group are talking about how traumatized they are, how they can’t get back to their normal lives, how they are scared every time they hear a loud noise, whatever…  and eventually the firefighter realizes that NONE of the people in the support group except him were actually at the towers that day.  Some weren’t even in the country.

I don’t like hearing people say “this tragedy happened to us all”.  Not true.  We can all be horrified by the news, we can imagine how terrible it must be for the families of those lost, and we can feel the noose around our hearts when we think of such a thing happening to our children.  But it did not happen to all of us.  We are okay.  Those of us who were not there (and are not related to those who were) do not deserve to moan about how terrible it was and how scared we are.

I have heard a lot of people say they are afraid to send their children to school now.  Seriously, are they afraid that someone is going to walk in and shoot their children?  Do you realize that there is about as good a chance of that as of an elderly person confusing the gas for the break and mowing your family over at the Farmers’ Market?  That our children are more at risk of dying when we are driving them down the freeway to a weekend at a snow cabin than when they are at school?  Children are vulnerable – they are vulnerable every single place they go, from the corner park to the gym to the neighbor’s backyard to their very own bathtubs.  But we can’t let ourselves live in terror, or we’ll never let them do anything, let them get socialized, let them learn from their mistakes, let them grow up.

Social events were canceled on Friday.  Social events for children far across the country from where the tragedy happened.  Is it because we think it is disrespectful to have fun when someone else has been hurt?  We can’t live like that, because we would NEVER be allowed to have fun.  Every single day, children die horrific deaths in fires, car accidents, beatings, falls – and we still have our parties.  I cried when I saw the news that day, but I really wished my little boy could have still joined his school for the movie night that he had been waiting for and talking about all week.

“Collective grief” has become popular.  There is the grief of the surviving family members – that is VERY real.  There is a collective grief of the community where the shooting happened – that many families in a small area being affected by such a tragedy has to have repercussions throughout the community, and that is the level where people know the families and know how to offer them help and support.  I don’t think the rest of the country has the right to claim some kind of national Post Traumatic Stress Disorder over what happened.

But then, a lot of people think I’m cold.


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