Saturday, February 01, 2014

Thoughts on the Mall of Columbia shooting, a week later

It’s taken nearly a week for the Columbia Mall shooting to sink in for me. I lived and worked in Columbia, Maryland, for five years and was proud to call it home, yet this past week, whenever I saw the tragedy referenced on the news, I turned my thoughts away.

Of all the recent shootings, why did this one give me that resigned, "Well, what can ever be done?" reaction that so many people experience when they hear this sort of news? Maybe I just couldn't bear to think about something like that happening in my former town. It was easier to grieve for people far away, in Connecticut, Colorado, etc. I could look into the faces of strangers and feel their pain, but not my former neighbors'.

This morning, all at once, the sorrow is hitting me like a freight train. I'm grieving for those who died, for their families, and for every person who calls Columbia home, who will never be able to enter that mall again without feeling afraid and sad and bewildered.

A lot of people (including me) make fun of malls for being shallow and fake, for being altars of conspicuous consumption. But in many suburbs, malls are THE central gathering place. They're a warm shelter in cold weather (on the day of the shooting, the temperature was in the teens) and a cool shelter in hot weather. 

It's the first place many suburban kids can be free from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers. Go to any mall an hour before opening and you'll see "mall walkers," older people getting the exercise they need to stay healthy and independent, without worrying about the heat or cold or traffic. The young and old flock to malls because they're supposed to be safe.

Today is another sub-freezing Saturday in Maryland. Thousands will go to the Columbia Mall to eat, shop, work, or just hang out with friends. But also to mourn and remember.

Part of my heart will always belong to that quirky town, with all its lofty, planned-community ambitions and perplexing flaws (seriously, there's not one straight road in that entire city--a sense of direction will get you nowhere, literally). My husband and I bought our first house in the Columbia Mall (our realtor's office was there--it's not like picked out our house from the shelves of Hot Topic). I ate many a slice of pizza in the same food court that, a week ago, was littered with shotgun-shell casings.

Today, that part of my heart is broken. Columbia doesn't deserve this pain. No city or town or suburb or village or borough deserves this pain. And yet it happens, again and again and again. 

I don't know the solution. It's undoubtedly a complex one, involving changes to our culture, our laws, and our mental-health care system. Not just one of those things, but all.

I do know that numbness, resignation, and indifference are not the solution. As hard as it is, we must mourn every new victim of violence, no matter their age, race, gender, or zip code. A drug dealer shot or stabbed to death in East Baltimore is no less of a tragedy than a clerk in a Columbia mall. Every life starts with potential, and every killing cuts that potential short.

So I welcome this broken heart today, because nothing is sadder than ceasing to care.

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