Vigilance, Healing, and a Stranger’s Smile at the Dry Cleaners

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I​ ​went​ ​to​ ​pick​ ​up​ ​my​ ​husband’s​ ​dry​ ​cleaning​ ​today.​ ​​ ​Usually​ ​it’s​ ​an​ ​errand​ ​that​ ​takes​ ​just​ ​minutes 
and​ ​is​ ​always​ ​completely​ ​uneventful.​ ​​ ​When​ ​I​ ​arrived​ ​there​ ​today​ ​however​ ​the​ ​TV​ ​was​ ​on​ ​behind 
the​ ​counter.​ ​​ ​The​ ​channel​ ​was​ ​tuned​ ​to​ ​a​ ​news​ ​station​ ​and​ ​they​ ​had​ ​a​ ​breaking​ ​news​ ​story​ ​-​ ​a 
shooting​ ​at​ ​an​ ​elementary​ ​school​ ​not​ ​all​ ​that​ ​far​ ​from​ ​where​ ​I​ ​lived.​ ​​ ​A​ ​domestic​ ​dispute​ ​led​ ​a 
man​ ​to​ ​enter​ ​a​ ​school,​ ​find​ ​his​ ​wife,​ ​a​ ​teacher,​ ​and​ ​shoot​ ​her​ ​in​ ​her​ ​classroom​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​the 
children​ ​in​ ​the​ ​room.​ ​A​ ​tragic​ ​story​ ​made​ ​all​ ​the​ ​more​ ​tragic​ ​because​ ​two​ ​of​ ​her​ ​students​ ​were 
standing​ ​behind​ ​her​ ​when​ ​he​ ​fired​ ​his​ ​gun​ ​and​ ​both​ ​were​ ​also​ ​shot.​ ​​ ​One​ ​died.​ ​​ ​An​ ​eight​ ​year 
old​ ​boy.​ ​​ ​A​ ​child​ ​that​ ​is​ ​the​ ​same​ ​age​ ​as​ ​my​ ​daughter,​ ​a​ ​child​ ​who​ ​had​ ​gone​ ​to​ ​school​ ​that​ ​day 
to​ ​play​ ​and​ ​learn.  
 
As​ ​I​ ​handed​ ​the​ ​sweet​ ​elderly​ ​lady​ ​that​ ​owns​ ​the​ ​dry​ ​cleaners​ ​my​ ​claim​ ​ticket,​ ​I​ ​started​ ​sobbing 
uncontrollably.​ ​​ ​At​ ​first​ ​she​ ​stared​ ​at​ ​me​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​as​ ​though​ ​she​ ​was​ ​going​ ​to​ ​ask​ ​me​ ​if​ ​I​ ​was 
ok,​ ​and​ ​then​ ​within​ ​moments​ ​her​ ​face​ ​softened​ ​and​ ​she​ ​asked​ ​quietly,​ ​“the​ ​shooting?” ​​ ​I 
nodded.​ ​​ ​We​ ​talked​ ​about​ ​how​ ​tragic​ ​it​ ​was,​ ​how​ ​schools​ ​should​ ​be​ ​a​ ​safe​ ​place.​ ​​ ​What​ ​really 
chilled​ ​me​ ​to​ ​the​ ​bone​ ​was​ ​something​ ​she​ ​said.​ ​​ ​Something​ ​I​ ​had​ ​thought​ ​in​ ​my​ ​mind​ ​and​ ​had 
said​ ​to​ ​my​ ​husband​ ​but​ ​dismissed​ ​as​ ​being​ ​the​ ​thoughts​ ​of​ ​an​ ​overprotective​ ​mom.​ ​​ ​This​ ​was​ ​a 
woman​ ​who​ ​had​ ​been​ ​on​ ​this​ ​earth​ ​many​ ​more​ ​years​ ​than​ ​I.​ ​​ ​She​ ​softly​ ​said,​ ​“I’m​ ​scared​ ​for​ ​the 
people​ ​in​ ​this​ ​world.​ ​​ ​I’ve​ ​never​ ​been​ ​scared​ ​to​ ​leave​ ​my​ ​house​ ​before​ ​and​ ​now​ ​with​ ​all​ ​that​ ​has 
been​ ​happening,​ ​I​ ​am.​ ​​ ​We​ ​are​ ​not​ ​safe​ ​anywhere​ ​now”.​ ​​ ​She​ ​brought​ ​up​ ​the​ ​shootings​ ​in​ ​the 
Colorado​ ​movie​ ​theatre,​ ​the​ ​elementary​ ​school​ ​shooting​ ​in​ ​Sandy​ ​Hook,​ ​trucks​ ​plowing​ ​through 
crowds​ ​of​ ​people.​ ​​ ​I​ ​think​ ​it​ ​was​ ​shocking​ ​to​ ​us​ ​both​ ​that​ ​we​ ​could​ ​find​ ​so​ ​many​ ​examples​ ​in​ ​our 
very​ ​recent​ ​history.​ ​​ ​I​ ​explained​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​two​ ​school​ ​aged​ ​children​ ​and​ ​that​ ​I​ ​was​ ​nervous​ ​and 
worried​ ​whenever​ ​they​ ​were​ ​out​ ​of​ ​my​ ​reach​ ​or​ ​out​ ​without​ ​us.​ ​​ ​She​ ​nodded.​ ​​ ​She​ ​told​ ​me​ ​she 
understood.​ ​​ ​She​ ​told​ ​me​ ​that​ ​she​ ​was​ ​glad​ ​that​ ​her​ ​children​ ​were​ ​grown. 
 
A​ ​woman​ ​who​ ​had​ ​likely​ ​seen​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​in​ ​her​ ​lifetime​ ​was​ ​for​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​really​ ​frightened.​ ​​ ​It​ ​made 
me​ ​realize​ ​that​ ​maybe​ ​I​ ​was​ ​not​ ​being​ ​oversensitive,​ ​but​ ​that​ ​I​ ​now​ ​truly​ ​lived​ ​in​ ​a​ ​new​ ​sad 
reality.​ ​​ ​Nothing​ ​was​ ​safe​ ​and​ ​nothing​ ​was​ ​sacred. 
  
I​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​enjoy​ ​going​ ​to​ ​movies​ ​-​ ​instead​ ​I​ ​watch​ ​everyone​ ​who​ ​comes​ ​and​ ​goes​ ​and​ ​I​ ​keep 
an​ ​eye​ ​out​ ​for​ ​anything​ ​out​ ​of​ ​place.​ ​​ ​Malls​ ​and​ ​amusement​ ​parks​ ​are​ ​places​ ​I​ ​simply​ ​choose 
not​ ​to​ ​go​ ​with​ ​my​ ​kids​ ​if​ ​I​ ​can​ ​help​ ​it.​ ​​ ​Crowded​ ​places​ ​in​ ​general​ ​cause​ ​me​ ​anxiety.​ ​​ ​I​ ​look​ ​for 
the​ ​exits​ ​and​ ​the​ ​escape​ ​routes​ ​and​ ​I​ ​play​ ​scenarios​ ​over​ ​and​ ​over​ ​again​ ​about​ ​how​ ​I​ ​would 
shield​ ​my​ ​children​ ​if​ ​needed.​ ​​ ​I​ ​watch​ ​everyone​ ​and​ ​everything.​ ​​ ​I​ ​kiss​ ​and​ ​hug​ ​both​ ​of​ ​my​ ​kids 
before​ ​they​ ​leave​ ​for​ ​school​ ​and​ ​I​ ​always​ ​tell​ ​them​ ​I​ ​love​ ​them.​ ​​ ​I​ ​never​ ​leave​ ​them​ ​or​ ​my 
husband​ ​in​ ​anger.​ ​​ ​I​ ​wouldn’t​ ​want​ ​anger​ ​to​ ​ever​ ​be​ ​our​ ​last​ ​memories. 
 
Some​ ​would​ ​say​ ​I’m​ ​paranoid​ ​and​ ​overly​ ​worried​ ​and​ ​cautious.​ ​​ ​Even​ ​jaded​ ​against​ ​humanity. 
Maybe.​ ​​ ​​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​I’m​ ​choosing​ ​to​ ​be​ ​aware​ ​of​ ​this​ ​new​ ​sad​ ​reality. 
 
We​ ​must​ ​treasure​ ​every​ ​moment​ ​with​ ​those​ ​that​ ​we​ ​love.​ ​​ ​We​ ​cannot​ ​become​ ​numb.​ ​​ ​We​ ​must 
be​ ​vigilant.​ ​We​ ​must​ ​hope​ ​that​ ​these​ ​families​ ​can​ ​heal.​ ​​ ​We​ ​must​ ​love​ ​one​ ​another​ ​and​ ​pray​ ​that 
this​ ​will​ ​be​ ​the​ ​last​ ​time. 

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