A lone gunman goes postal, sending a battery of bullets into a crowd full of innocent people. There’s an extra groan when it happens at a school or involves small children. If there’s proximity, not something distant on another continent, it’s a reminder that bad things can and do happen, sometimes right next door.
On Monday we were shocked by the fatal shooting of four people, including three students, at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. I live in the heart of the Jewish sections of Paris, so it’s easy for me to imagine this happening. Almost every school in our neighborhood has a plaque posted near the door, often adorned with flowers and tri-color ribbons, commemorating the young students who were deported to the Nazi concentration camps. The school just behind my apartment building is often selected to host the somber ceremonies of remembrance in the presence of government dignitaries. I could imagine my girls being at the wrong place and the wrong time here in our very own neighborhood and being caught in the crossfire.
One daughter said had no idea why there’d been a minute of silence, the teacher simply said that it was being observed at all the schools in France. The other’s teacher had referred to the event in Toulouse, but it was obvious that my daughter still didn’t really understand what had happened. One of her classmates was cited as a source of additional information; you can imagine the facts were jumbled, though reported to me with enthusiastic certainty.
I don’t want to conjure up fear in their young minds about a lack of security at school or in the neighborhood. To speak to children of such atrocities feels unfair, like I’m robbing them of their innocence, tarnishing their sheer belief in the goodness of the world. To shield them from what happened seems equally unfair, especially if it means they hear snippets from someone else, someone ill-equipped to inform them with the age-appropriate sensitivity.
I asked if they wanted to know why there’d been a minute of silence. They did, so I told them about how a really crazy guy, someone not right in the head, took his gun and shot at people in front of a school, how the silence was to honor the people who were killed, and their grieving families. Of course I was bombarded with whys, and I did my best to explain in simple terms the idiocy of religious and racial violence.
“But it’s all the same God,” said my daughter, “what does it matter?” Then a barrage of questions about guns. “Why do people have guns? Why were guns even invented? Why would someone take a gun to a school, and shoot children?”
I couldn’t come up with a good answer, at least not one I believed myself. “That’s another reason to have a minute of silence,” I told her, “so that maybe people will ask themselves just those kinds of questions.”
This morning after dropping the girls at school, I stopped at the nearby café where the parents who don’t have to rush to work gather and catch up over coffee. I brought up the minute of silence, which met with mixed reactions. One parent referenced interviews with psychologists saying that there’s no reason to burden children with this news. But how can you avoid the inevitability that they’ll hear about it and be terrorized more by what they don’t know than by what they do know?
I wondered, had I done the right thing, explaining it to my girls? I made a choice to respect my children rather than protect them. I guess there’s no single right answer to that question, I just wish it was one we didn’t have to ask.
MDTaz says “It starts the instant you get pregnant. Your body needs blood to feed the baby in your belly, and so you get less blood where your body deems you need it least. Very quickly, you lose your mind. Even after the baby is born, mental acuity is never fully recovered. You don’t get it back, not quite the same way. Ever.” You can read more of her insights on her blog, Maternal Dementia.