(Caution: tired writer. Mixed metaphors ahead…)
I grew up in a small town. Though we had our quirks and craziness, and we were not immune to death and grief, the town felt safe when I was a kid. It has felt safe to raise a kid here, too, and I am grateful to live in a true community, where people see each other, pay attention, and in the ways we can, take care of each other. Having moved within walking distance to town, this summer, I was looking forward to echoing my own childhood: biking with my kid, hot afternoons at the swimming pool, soft serve ice cream, fun. This sense of safety in my own town (yes, “my,” because I have a sense of investment and ownership in this place) is a cozy blanket I’ve enjoyed, and taken for granted, most of my life.
But since June, my security has been rocked by several situations that leave me feeling vulnerable. I think back to the moment of Truman Capote’s “nonfiction novel,” In Cold Blood; I think back to the moment when people began locking their doors.
Earlier this year, there was a rash of burglaries that had many in Yellow Springs feeling vulnerable. That situation ended in the arrest of a troubled man who grew up here. Add the accumulation of things that is making me feel vulnerable this summer:
1. On June 12, someone sprayed undiluted herbicide on the grass at the pool, opening a controversy in our small town that is still going on;
2. On June 27, reportedly, someone with a gun was seen near the outdoor education center at Glen Helen where my daughter had been a camper earlier in the summer, which turned out to be a hoax reported by a camp counselor, who was then put on administrative leave;
3. On July 11, a local man attempted suicide, which resulted in a police search and brief lockdown of my workplace during the Antioch Writers’ Workshop;
4. Last week, another local man, allegedly pissed off about the potential for a farm lab at Antioch College, threatened to shoot the members of the Village Council and was arrested (sorry, I couldn’t find a link to this story);
5. Last night, there was a shoot-out resulting in a man dying, less than a block from a house where I used to live.
Notice: four of five of these summer situations involve guns, or the idea of guns. Big deal, right? This might not sound like much to people who live in larger cities, or dangerous parts of the world. For a town with population under 4,000 people, however, these are big, and rattling. I know people live (and even thrive) in war zones. But this summer’s accumulation of trauma in the village, the pile of things that shake our sense of safety, is palpable. It takes brute effort not to pass my worry and fear to my five-year-old daughter. (Oh, and, nothing to do with guns, but two difficult events this summer: 1. Camille Willis, Yellow Springs resident and mother of my dear childhood friends–and a second mother to me–died very suddenly during the second week of June. No gun involved, but the loss is central in wobbling my feeling of home, and safety. 2. Jimmy Cheshire, beloved T-Ball coach, had a serious head injury. Luckily, he is healing well, and so there’s some bright spot in that fact.)
When I think about where to focus efforts for controlling the proliferation of guns, I don’t even know where to start. I know we also need deeper support for people who are afraid, for people who are in (mental, spiritual, emotional, physical) pain. I know it’s more complicated than “guns kill people” but I also know that if it weren’t so damn easy to get guns, guns would kill fewer people.
I’ve been brewing a blog post about this soup of summer grief. Today, after the latest event, I am sad and ragged. Sad and ragged for all the people who’ve been hurt and affected by these situations. I wish the bubble were sturdier.