So, I live in Binghamton.
I was home with my kids on Friday morning when I got an email letting me know there was a hostage situation, and not to go downtown. I had a friend over for a knitting lesson that afternoon, so we were knitting and chatting, wondering what was going on at the Civic Association. We couldn't find a radio station to give us the news, and I don't have television in my house, so we trooped up to my computer for updates. I think I assumed it would all come to nothing, because I gasped when I read that at least twelve people were shot dead.
Binghamton, like probably all the other towns where somebody has lost it and killed a bunch of people, has very little violent crime. We have some drug trafficking, the usual check fraud, an occasional bank robbery. Nobody gets mugged here. Most of us don't lock our doors, at night or any other time. We feel safe.
I walked the dog that night, and it freaked me out that our town could host such violence, and not show it. The streets and the houses all looked the same. I didn't know anyone who was killed, and I don't have any particular connection with the Civic Association. My life was unchanged. I was walking the dog. My kids were home, warm, and safe. My husband was fine, and he'd go off to work again on Monday. It was just another Friday night, and I found that deeply unsettling.
We made it through the weekend, cleaned the house on Saturday and went for a walk on Sunday. Joe and I had more than our usual number of disagreements, perhaps, but we worked them out, and maybe they weren't even related to the strange random violence that took place nearby.
Monday, we all went back to our lives. Joe went to work, the kids and I went about our day together. We did school, we went to a homeschool play practice, we came home, we had lunch. All normal, all surreal.
And then I went to work. I have a part time job at a school, helping out with the afterschool program a few days a week. The kids and I mostly play in the gym, or glue popsicle sticks together, whatever they want to do. They're pretty busy all day, so I let them do what they want at the end of the day.
So guess what they wanted to do yesterday?
They staged a dramatic re-enactment of the shootings. They knew a lot of the details. They had a classroom with students learning English, and a teacher helping them. They had a gunman come in and flatten them all. They had a receptionist with a belly wound, who heroically played dead and called the police. They had the gunman shoot himself in the head when he heard police sirens.
I wasn't horrified, and I didn't stop them. I was beside myself with joy. During the years when I was a classroom teacher, I observed over and over that kids will act out what they don't understand. Kids will act out the world of work, they'll act out a divorce, they'll act out a kid getting hit by a car. They're not choosy, and they don't have a sense of what's horrible and what's normal. It's all just life, and they're trying to understand it all.
And there they were, trying to understand something nobody can really explain, something so horrible most adults want to look away. They acted it out with joy, if you can believe it. They didn't take it seriously, and I didn't try to insist that they do so. They were joyful and laughing, as playful, bossy, and opinionated as they always are.
To these kids, the shooting is not the least bit surreal; it just is. And as I sat watching them put on a show, I was able to see it through their eyes. As they worked through it, I began to work through it myself.
It was beautiful, and ordinary. Just like life.