For The Survivors, We Remember
In two weeks’ time, three mass shootings killed 34 people and left dozens more injured. We were outraged and in shock, and for a few days we managed to sustain a collective call for new laws that would make our country safer.
Now, we are moving on.
This is our human nature, to search for signs that we’re going to be OK.
Right now, rituals around a beginning school year can be a welcome distraction. Back-to-school deals are everywhere, sparking memories of our younger days, as students or young parents, especially if we can ignore the reported uptick in sales of bulletproof backpacks.
Yellow school buses are back, slowing down morning commutes with their sputtering and wheezing as they stop and go, stop and go. Carpool lines are full of little ones fastened tight in rocket-sized car seats, and traffic slows to a crawl in school zones because we want to keep America’s children safe.
Hold my hand in the street.
Hold my hand in the parking lot.
Hold my hand, hold my hand, hold my hand.
Perhaps you heard about this. On Tuesday, Perches Funeral Home in El Paso, Texas, posted this on its Facebook page:
“Mr. Antonio Basco was Married for 22yrs to his wife Margie Reckard, He had no other family. He welcomes anyone to attend his Wife’s services. On Friday August 16th, Perches Funeral Home Northeast on 4946 Hondo Pass from 5-9pm.
“Let’s show him & his Wife some El Paso Love.”
Antonio’s wife, Margie Reckard, was one of the people killed in the El Paso shooting. She was 63 years old. Her husband told KFOX-TV that he and Margie were together for 22 years.
“When I met her, she was an angel, and she still is,” he said. “I was supposed to be the strong one, but I found out I’m the weak one, and she’s going to be missed a lot.”
Newspaper style would have me refer to them as Basco and Reckard on subsequent reference, but that feels harsh. It’s not how we talk about people we know who are grieving, and now we all know that Antonio loved Margie, and he doesn’t want to be alone when he has to say goodbye.
In two weeks’ time, a total of 34 innocent people were gunned down in three American cities: Gilroy, California, El Paso and Dayton, Ohio. Dozens more were injured. We can pretend that life has moved on, but the survivors of these tragedies know differently. So do we.
Most of us have endured the loss of someone we love. We know how grief is prolonged and compounded by the evidence of a loved one’s interrupted life. A head’s imprint on a pillow. Reading glasses resting upside down on the unfinished page. The swipe of fingertips preserved in a favorite jar of hand cream. These everyday things take on the power of spooks and spirits in the aftermath of even the most expected endings. They linger, and sometimes they never leave.
In the hour after my mother’s death 20 years ago, I gathered up her clothes in the hospital room and noticed the tip of one of her hankies poking out from the pocket of her jacket. My mother always had tissues in her purse for “messy noses,” as she put it, but she also carried cloth hankies, for herself and to hand to others. “For the tears,” she said.
I tugged on the tip of the wadded up hankie in her pocket and pulled it out. It was stiff with dried tears she hadn’t wanted any of us to see. Twenty years later, I think of how, in her last days, my mother was still trying to protect us.
If you’ve ever grieved, you, too, have your stories.
In our country, a growing number of people are grieving the loss of loved ones who have died because of guns. We must continue the fight for gun reform, but we can do more. We do not have to know these survivors to bear witness to their pain. We do not have to know their names to acknowledge that their lives will never be the same. For them, we can remember.
Will this hurt our hearts? Likely yes, but we’ll be OK. Hearts break wide open, and in that space something new can be born.