As Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords prepares for her rehabilitation in Texas, my Arizona household is still teeming with questions. As difficult as the events of a madman are for an adult to comprehend, they are nearly impossible for a child to grasp.
Television, newspapers, and the internet have been inundated with reports of the shootings that left six dead, many wounded, and Gabrielle Giffords shot in the head. Naturally, my inquisitive 8 year old son heard about the tragedy, even though I tried to shield him from the details surrounding this situation.
“What’s a massacre, Mom?” Daniel, my son, asked. It’s not the kind of question I ever thought I would have to answer, especially not to someone so young and innocent.
“Well,” I began slowly, “it’s when several people are killed, usually by surprise.” I knew Daniel had heard the reports and I wasn’t sure if I should address the subject first. Now, when confronted with the questions, I felt he deserved honest answers.
“Why did that man shoot those people?” I could hear the concern in his voice.
“That’s a tough question,, Dan,” I answered. “Some people are mentally sick, and some are just plain evil.” I didn’t want to oversimplfy my responses to him, yet I didn’t want to go into grand detail and scare him, either.
“Just know, Daniel,” I continued, “that your dad and I will always answer your questions and we’ll always do our best to keep you safe.” He seemed satisfied, at least for the moment.
I, too, was satisfied for the moment knowing that children are resilient. I can’t say that this episode won’t stay with Daniel for the rest of his life, but answering his queries openly may help him deal with the horrors of this world.
Ryan, my oldest son, was about Daniel’s age when the September 11th attacks occurred. There was no escaping the images of the airplanes slamming into the Twin Towers, shown over and over. Obviously Ryan couldn’t avoid the pictures and he had questions, too. My approach then was to reassure Ryan that he was safe and that I loved him, but some times in this world, people do bad things. I’m hoping this approach works for Daniel as well.
The problem for me, as an adult, is the realization that while I know terrible events are bound to happen, it’s dealing with the aftermath. How do the families and loved ones of the victims go on? I try to put myself in their position and don’t know that I would be able to pull myself together to muster through another day. And, of course, I can’t help but think how close to home–literally–this incident occurred. Daniel is about the same age as the youngest victim, Christina-Taylor Green. We live five minutes from a Safeway. When I say sincerely to my kids that I will always do my best to protect them from harm, how can I really be sure? Fate will always intervene, so I walk that tightrope that all parents walk: having the faith to send them out into the world to face what they may.