I turned on my television. A reporter announced that there had been a school shooting at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte campus.
The TV showed scenes from a nightmare. Paramedics. People on stretchers. Police cruisers. The reporter said that two people were killed, four had been injured.
I didn’t mean to, but I started crying. It just sort of happened. You can’t control these things.
My dog began scratching the door to go outside. So I wiped my face and took her for a walk to help clear my head.
The sun was lowering, the sky was orange, the clouds were perfect. And I started thinking about the devastated students in Charlotte.
They were children, young adults, teachers, adjunct professors, and custodians. Some of the students might have been sitting in their classrooms daydreaming about the same things I once thought about in college.
Maybe they wondered if they would pass algebra. Maybe they wondered if the blonde in social science class ever noticed them. Perhaps they wondered why professors go to the trouble of printing syllabuses when nobody reads them.
Then. All hell broke loose.
The thought made me cry again. “Get a hold of yourself,” I whispered. “You’re turning into an old woman.”
That’s when I saw my neighbor’s children, playing in the street. A girl knelt on a skateboard, dressed as Batman. She had the mask and everything. Her brother was rolling her on the pavement.
The girl threw her arms outward, her cape waved behind her. They wore smiles bright enough to set the woods on fire.
I doubted that these children had any idea about what happened today in Charlotte. Thankfully.
The little girl whizzed by.
“I’m flying!” she screamed. “Can you see me?”
“I see you!” her brother shouted. “You’re doing it!”
It was sweet enough to bring a tear to a glass eye. I had to choke back more saltwater again.
God, what’s happening to me? I thought to myself.
I must be getting softer with age. Last night, for instance, I watched a John Wayne movie and I almost cried at the end. And when I realized I had run out of salted peanuts, I truly did cry.
After that, I watched a documentary about Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. I was a mess through the whole thing. And when the TV rolled footage from the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, I completely lost it.
His words get me every time.
“I’m flying!” said the girl again. “Look!”
The sound of skateboard wheels on pavement is one of the five basic sounds of childhood, only to be outdone by the sound of baseball cards flapping against bicycle spokes.
They sped by. Her brother gave it the gas. He pushed her as fast as he could. Then he let her go.
The girl zipped out of his hands. She lost control of the skateboard. She screamed. She veered off the pavement, into the grass.
She rolled down a hill into a drainage ditch. The girl somersaulted, then splashed into a puddle of standing water, head first.
Her brother came running.
“Samantha!” he was shouting. “Oh my God! Are you okay?”
I followed after them. And we found her. Batman was lying on her back in a muddy ditch. She was staring at the sky.
And she was laughing.
She removed her plastic mask and howled so hard that her brother began to laugh, too. Then I laughed.
But I am not writing this because of all the laughing. I am writing because when the laughter ended, the boy crawled into the ditch and lifted his sister from the muddy water.
He hugged her and said, “You had me worried, I thought you were a goner.”
And they held each other. Two small children, on an average American residential street, somewhere in the world, holding each other.
He wiped mud from her face. He fixed her hair. Then he removed his T-shirt and gave it to her since her costume was covered in muck.
“Here,” he said. “You can have my shirt.”
They walked home together. She wore a clean white shirt. His torso was bare.
Today, a twenty-two-year-old opened fire on his classmates in Charlotte, and he killed some. It was horrific. And frightening. And it is enough to make this grown man cry.
Sometimes, I come close to losing faith in my fellow man. Too close, maybe.
But I have a dream. That one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.
And all flesh shall see it together.
Those aren’t my words, but they get me every time.