This past weekend my daughter and I went to the movies. We walked into the semi-darkened theater, and as we settled into our reclining seats with the rising footrests that make you think you’re in your home recliner (but with cupholders!), I found myself doing what I always do at the movies.
I noted the exits to the front of the stage, on either side of the screen. And I wondered, as I always do, if we were suddenly in the line of fire from an intruder from those front exits, how fast could I duck down/hide/escape/throw my body in front of my precious daughter before the hail of bullets came flying at us.
This is my new normal — ever since the Aurora, Colo., shooter took out movie fans at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight in 2012.
It’s not in the back of my mind when I go to the movies, it’s way out front. Check the exits, have an escape plan.
America’s new normal is living in fear and despair.
When did living, breathing, just existing become so damn hard?
A few weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, there was a suicide bombing at an outdoor market in a city in the Middle East. Don’t ask me which one, I couldn’t even tell you which country. But as I looked at the pictures of chaos in that morning’s Boston Globe, I remember thinking, “we’ll never understand how horrible this is, until it happens here.” Then 9/11 happened.
For awhile, we told ourselves we would be OK. The perpetrators were foreigners, radicalized elsewhere, misguided in their beliefs. As long as we could “other” them, we could go about our daily business.
But we can’t keep telling ourselves these fairytales. We can’t blame different religions, or undocumented immigrants, or brown people at the border. We can’t “other” this away. The hatred is coming from inside our country.
Our new normal is rabid, domestic terrorism. It is fueled by vitriolic white supremacists, rage-filled young — and middle-aged — men who feel entitled to take whatever they want from whomever they choose. So they unleash their ultraviolent fantasy on the rest of us, who only want to go to festivals, and malls, and theaters, and parks, and schools, and work, and houses of worship, without living on high alert, and looking for the exits.
When my daughter was a teenager, I would caution her about going to house parties of people she knew only tangentially. But she’s a city kid, and she has honed her intuitive skills to pick up those weird, sketchy vibes. She knows if a place doesn’t feel right, even if you’re there only 30 seconds, it’s time to go. You never wait for the fists — or bullets — to start flying.
But now I’m more worried when she goes to a mall or a concert than if she goes to a house party.
Remember how they used to say when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras?
We’re thinking zebras all the time. The backfire from motorcycles in Times Square a few nights ago sent scores of people fleeing in a panic. Police had to tweet out there was no active shooter.
When we have an administration that calls my vocation “the enemy of the people,” shouldn’t I worry that someone will take issue with my next opinion piece and deliver a fatal device to my office? They used to say being paranoid doesn’t mean they still aren’t out to get you.
So here’s the thing.
Our paranoia, and anxiety, and despair is the new normal. That sense of impending doom has started to envelop us, paralyzing and keeping us from enjoying the simplest pleasures of living day to day without an exit strategy.
We are a nation increasingly fueled by anger, hate, and fear. Yet we continue to debate gun safety, and mental health issues, but won’t address the pervasive sickness of racism and white supremacy. We stupidly and numbly offer up thoughts and prayers and move on, letting our fellow human beings mourn their dead and try to rebuild permanently shattered lives, thankful that at least it wasn’t us. This time.
In a day or two, another mass shooting will undoubtedly grab the headlines. Does anyone remember the horror of the shooting at a Garlic Festival in California a mere two weekends ago?
This new normal is unacceptable — and unsustainable — though not necessarily a fait accompli. But first we have to acknowledge that the evil hatred that drives this insanity lives with us, among us, and too often, in us.