Friday, February 26, 2016

A Killer, a Father and a Son

I'm wrapping my son up in my arms. We lie side-by-side, his face nestled into my chest.

Some would look at this scene and think, "Tisk, tisk. Co-sleeping. Didn't you read how terrible that is!?"

Others would think, "You better cut that habit now. He'll never learn to sleep on his own if you coddle him like that."

You know what I'm thinking? I need to hold my son right now -- tightly.

I'm holding him like his life depended on it because, just moments ago, I read the news: A middle-aged man just wandered my city of Kalamazoo, killing six innocent people. This man, with no criminal record, no recognizable "warning signs," opened up fire in three different locations, murdering people he had never met.

And so, as a father, my mind is spinning.

I'm thinking about the father and son who were killed at the car lot. I am imagining me and my son, years from now, excitedly looking for a used car, being approached by a stranger. I wince and my heart petrifies.


"Nothing will replace those lives or put an abrupt end to the senseless killings that are America's 'new normal.'"


I'm thinking about being 12 years old and hearing the news of Columbine -- being shocked at this historic atrocity and wondering how this could ever happen. And, I am thinking about how my son will grow up with this scene as a normal state of living, a weekly blip on the screen as bored newscasters report yet another shooting rampage.

I'm thinking about how that very night of the shooting, my wife and I went out for a rare date together. I'm thinking about the four women shot in their cars who, just like us, left for their dinner outing without considering that it may be their last.

I look at my son and wonder about the shooter. Surely, he was held, he was rocked, he was cared for as a baby. No matter what happened to him that drove him to kill, he was a baby once, too. I think about the immense responsibility that is lying at my side, breathing, growing, developing every second into the man he will become.

And through all these thoughts there are no answers, no resolutions, no explanations for the news I just read -- at least none that will satisfy the weight I feel in my heart. I know that attention will turn to the tired conversations about gun control views, and still nothing will replace those lives or put an abrupt end to the senseless killings that are America's "new normal."

I am simply left considering the value of life and the value of the moments that make up a life. In every moment I have with my son, there are countless opportunities. I have the choice, when I look at him, whether to smile in his eyes or check my Facebook updates. I have the choice whether to see his crying fits as a disruption to "my plans" and "my precious time" or to see them as his communicating a need that I can fulfill. He is reaching out to me.

When he gets older, I will have a choice between listening or lecturing, understanding or assuming. I will have moments where I can choose whether to evaluate if he has lived up to my every expectation or love him for the unique realities I could never have imagined.

I will have thousands of moments with my son every single day. And, no matter how cruel, how cold, how random the world seems, these moments will matter. I must do everything I can to recognize the value of every second we share.

Thinking this makes my heart hurt more deeply for the families of Kalamazoo who will never get those moments again.

So right now, as my mind ruminates with anger and fear and a longing for justice, I turn my attention to this moment and make it matter. My dog lying at my feet. My wife asleep at my side. My son curled up in my arms. The value of life should never wait until its end to be realized. These seconds, these moments, these "in-betweens" have value. Hold them tightly.

A version of this post originally appeared on Dad-ish.

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