This past Saturday, we were creating paper flowers as a reminder of that other Saturday, the one that took Christina from us and catapulted Daniel to national prominence. It's easy to forget that he's only 23 years old; everyone from Mayors Against Illegal Guns to AIPAC has him on their short list of favored participants as he manages a position on a contentious school board here in town. Mostly, he's a gentle giant of a man, who's always willing to hold a crying baby, or help a child fold and cut a paper flower.
when she commented last week. This was not an easy project.
Still, we persevered. We accordion folded and cut fringes and wrapped, often even remembering to put the bended piece of the straw inside the paper. We taped and we unfurled and we laughed at our efforts. It was a lovely, sunny, Saturday morning.
And then a man came by and wondered if we were "protesting gun violence." Yes, we were. I was about to ask him if he wanted to join us when he continued, wondering "if any of you have been shot by a gun." Yes, I have, said I as I showed him the exit wound on my back, clearly exposed by the sleeveless blouse I wore. "By a gun?" he inquired. "Yes, three times," I replied.
By that time I was up from the table and standing across the sidewalk from him, and his two young boys. I didn't notice the event organizer, but she noticed us. She'd made her way to my side as my interlocutor went on, surprising me with the intensity of his next comment. "No, not a gun. Guns don't shoot people, people shoot people."
That's true, just as flames don't burn people, fools who put their hands in the fire burn themselves. But not all people should have guns, and our system is not set up to weed them out. I was prepared to continue the conversation, albeit with my heart pounding in my chest, when the organizer stepped between us.
"This is a family friendly space. We are working on a project. Please, leave us in peace."
That may not be it exactly, but it covers her intention. She wrapped her arm around me as, quaking, I returned to my bench next to Daniel. "The police advised us not to engage in conversation outside our group," she said.
I'd skipped most of the local Moms Demand Action events here in town because I was worried about the security surrounding them. This one, set in the middle of a busy park, with Little Leaguer's and swing swingers in every direction, under a covered ramada far from the main street, felt safe enough to entice me to join the fun. And then, as the organizer noted, I engaged in conversation and the whole atmosphere turned.
The man and his two boys walked away and I went back to folding and cutting and wrapping. My soul was hurting. I shouldn't argue ... I should stick to the task ... I should stay safe. I can't find fault with any of that, but the missed opportunity rankled.
Not that I would have changed his mind. He was spouting platitudes, not asking questions. I have some answers (lunatics and terrorists should be precluded from owning weaponry, our laws exist but are broken, do you really need a gun to buy a burger?) . It probably wouldn't have gone anywhere. But still....
When the police tell you to call if ignoring the outside world still makes you feel vulnerable, is that a good thing? They didn't send an officer to keep us safe. They told us to keep our mouths shut and not make waves and we'd be okay. The organizers wanted a family friendly event. They were not seeking tumult or immediate change. They are looking to grow the organization, and that requires much preaching to the choir, it seems. Getting people involved and keeping them involved is not an easy task. Fierce argumentation is not a part of that plan.
And yet, we were out in public, making a statement that we exist. Would it have been better to do it at my house, and avoid the issue of interacting with strangers entirely? Was there a way to communicate our goals without endangering our safety or the sanctity of the event itself? Was there something else I could have said or done?
I'm not sure. I am learning as I go, bringing my scarred psyche along with me. That which used to leave me nonplussed now sends me spiraling, my head exploding. I have to figure out a way to meld the activist with the shootee. It's an interesting challenge.