Tuesday, April 07, 2009

all is well, all is not well

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.


Anonymous said...

Wow! That is pretty cool they are trying ti figure that incident out.

Hard to grasp. I am glad it was helpful to you as well.

Granna Judy said...

Wow -- I had no idea where this would go when I started reading. And I wouldn't have thought it a good thing for them to act it out, but I see that it was. Thank you.

Lori said...


Granna Judy said...

I just read this to Dad and we both wonder about the phrase "it was beautiful and ordinary." We can see the ordinary but the beautiful puzzles us.

Ipo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ipo said...

after reading this post early this morning i felt a bit disturbed. a few hours have passed and i can now articulate why... i can see the need for the children to purge this experience from their system through play, art, discussion, etc., i have seen that time and time again when children have experienced something that is hard to process. but i think it is important to place some value on it - that someone going into a building and shooting other people, to death, is not just a part of normal life, it is a part of the dark side of life and should be held that way, from my perspective. just like birth is a part of life but is amazing and breath taking every time. a shooting or a birth aren't like doing the dishes or playing tag... and maybe an afterschool program isn't the place, which did cross my mind but it also crossed my mind that someone needs to talk to these kids about the darkness that is involved with this community incident. just my 2 cents.

elsie deluxe said...

I think the re-enactment was beautiful, not the event. Just to be clear.

And I guess I feel like the kids are well aware of the gravity of the situation. I didn't need to remind them. We all know it's serious. Telling them to take it seriously would have ruined it, for them.

Everyone heard the helicopters overhead, everyone wondered if they knew someone killed. I don't feel that it's my place to tell them how to process that.

T. Kutz said...

It isn't unusual for children who live in war ravaged nations to continue to play "war games" with their friends. You would think they would want a break from that because it is their life. It is a sad fact of reality, but random shootings and unexplainable tragedies are now a part of our children's lives. I think seeing it acted out would have been disturbing to me. But I think it would have been so because tragedies weren't a part of my childhood, and as adults we would like to hush it up and pray that it doesn't happen again. But it will happen again. I think kids acting it out puts them in that situation to realize what they would do. Not unlike a family fire drill. It can be very upsetting to practice what would happen if our house caught fire. Who will get which kids? Will we try to get the pets? How will we get out of the second story window? What if we get separated? If you actually do this with your family it can be very sobering. Hundreds of people die every year in house fires. But we practice it (re-enact it) so that we know what to do when it occurs, and don't freeze in fear. I am not suggesting that the kids are consciously preparing for a shooting. But it is a part of their desensitizing themselves for the world that we live in.

Granna Judy said...

That's a really interesting point, that the kids are desensitizing themselves for the world we live in. And while being sensitive to crises is important, desensitizing ourselves is necessary in order to be able to function if and when the next crisis occurs -- much better than freezing in a crisis. Thanks for helping me see that.

Anonymous said...

I think I would have been disturbed to watch the kids act that out, even though rationally I know it is normal and beneficial for them.

Maybe that's because I'm finishing up a proofread on a book about serial killers, rapists, molesters, etc. and their psychological and other problems. It's kind of been freaking me out a little -- kind of how you felt, I think, when you walked your dog -- that many times these people seem normal in everyday life. One was even an active church member! Yet they have this other "double" life of total horror.

I'm trying hard not to let it affect how I relate to normal life. But I'll be very glad when this project is done.

JoVE said...

Interesting. I happened to see a newspaper headline about it and thought of you at the time.