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I'm Afraid of Americans

Photograph by Getty Images

A few years ago I was working at Northwestern University when, one dull afternoon, everyone's phones, desk and cell, started ringing at the same time. I picked up my cell and heard an automated message that a gunman had been seen on campus and everybody was supposed to lock down.

Oh, I didn't realize it until now, but this is my worst nightmare, I thought to myself. I wonder if I'll die.

Eventually the lockdown got called off and I don't know whatever happened to the gunman--it might have been a figment of someone's imagination, or maybe he just walked away. That wasn't, of course, the first time I ever contemplated how dying in a mass public shooting is a horrific way to lose your life (or, perhaps even worse, to hear that it happened to a loved one), but it was closer than the other ways I had experienced it, which was through the news.

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Stories of public shootings in the States have always distressed me but since I've had children, I've become nearly obsessed, reading the stories and then going into the comments and Tweets and Facebook threads because I live in disbelief that there are people—many many people—in this country who think that things are fine the way they are. If I'm being quite honest, it fills me with an ironic murderous rage, like, yes, if I could shoot the person who would cast the deciding vote against amending gun control so that things like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting never happened again, I would. Good thing I don't own a gun.

So I do what I can, which is donate money to causes I believe in (which exist, for the record, to pass better gun control laws, not to take away existing guns), correspond with my congresspeople and try to speak my mind in a somewhat cogent way on social media, because I think ending a post with "idiot" does not do much to earn you credibility or new listeners.

However, I don't feel like I'm doing much, and that only stokes my fear. My fear used to be that I would be caught in some sort of public shooting, or, worse, that my children would be, but lately that fear has been replaced by a new type of terror:

I'm scared that people live in fear of terrorism but not enough to demand legislation that prevents potential terrorists from legally purchasing guns.

I'm scared that some people are against "big government" and then donate money to the NRA, which has control over what the CDC is allowed to study and report.

I'm scared that people feel comfortable advertising how lightly they take putting guns into the hands of their children despite the fact that things like this can and actually have happened.

I'm scared that many people thought it was, I don't know, brave or funny or kick-ass to fire rounds into a copy of a newspaper that reported the news that many people are frightened.

I'm scared that people have decided that when the founding fathers wrote the Second Amendment, it meant that it would be appropriate and patriotic to stalk around a place of worship with weapons visible.

I'm scared about how we repeatedly let ourselves get caught up in time-wasting semantics about whether another murder is terrorism or "merely" a mass shooting, making sure we know the killers' skin color and religion and political beliefs before we really pass judgment on the event, and whether it's disrespectful to suggest that actions and policy are more effective than thought and prayer, as if once we establish all that we can really get to the business at hand.

And I'm still scared to live in a country where 20 children—children—can be shot to death and nothing, and the government didn't change a single thing about it. (Compared to when, say, the Our Lady of Angels School fire killed 87 children in Chicago in 1958 and sweeping changes in school fire safety regulations were enacted nationwide to ensure it never happened again.) Sandy Hook could happen again tomorrow and every day this week and still many people would say, "Your dead kids don't trump my rights."

How can this possibly be? How can we all live in the same country and use the same currency and postal system and celebrate the same government holidays and watch the same sporting events and use the same social networks? I'm terrified that I live amongst these people.

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I have come to realize that I can do a few tiny things but I can only do so much, take in so much, before I start to lose my mind and the gratitude and joy for the many things I have. It has happened a few times in the last few weeks where I was distracted from my healthy, beautiful, bright children because I was caught up in reading as many facts and comments as I could about shootings and gun control and gun rights, which is not a good use of my time. A trip to Target felt morbid last week as I contemplated how easy it would be to shoot up a place like that, how hollow and ridiculous all the Christmas decorations were when the country is like this. But at the same time, my boys don't know that. It's my job—and my privilege—to make this time special to them. But it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit though, I tell you.

Maybe in some respects the world was better before social media, when I merely lived in this country but wasn't so blatantly aware of exactly what my fellow citizens all think. It feels bizarre and purposefully ignorant to aspire to close myself off from the world, especially as a writer and a blogger, but now this is what I'm facing. I feel like if the world is this frightening, if I can't do anything about it beyond donating money and saying what I can say, at a certain point all I can do is try shut down and pull the covers above my head, at least sometimes. Maybe it's safe under there.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post is republished from the author's website, Zulkey, with her permission.

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