Is it safe anywhere anymore?
That’s the question we keep asking ourselves and each other. No place seems to be safe from homicidal craziness, and the massacre in Las Vegas has only helped to worsen people’s growing unease.
Over the past few months I’ve heard several people — regular, even-keeled people — wonder aloud about going to crowded places. A friend visiting New York expressed this concern just today, a thought some of us have already entertained: “I got tickets to the Yankees’ game, but I wonder how safe it is now? How do I know some psychopath isn’t planning to blow up Yankee Stadium?”
Just a few years ago, I would have qualified these questions as illogical fear, the rantings of a paranoid person who has watched one too many episodes of Criminal Minds. Now? I’m not so sure.
There I was, having a nice lunch at the food court in the Eaton Centre this summer, and I couldn’t help but think of that awful day a few years ago when a man opened fire in that very spot. That day, the place was packed with families just like mine, no doubt. One minute they were unwrapping a sandwich, the next minute they heard a noisy ruckus they couldn’t even identify, and the next minute people were screaming and dropping all around them. I’m sure they didn’t even have time to process what was happening before it was over.
That wasn’t in a far-away land a thousand miles away from my life – that was in a mall in Toronto where I’ve been a dozen times. My kids were in that building.
And one bad thought leads to another. How do we know these incidents will limit themselves to Las Vegas or Toronto? The murder plot planned for the Halifax Shopping Centre a few years ago proved that it’s not just big, foreign cities that have to worry. And how do we know where the next maniac is going to strike? Is it going to be at the grocery store? A university? After all, the violence the world has seen in the past few years doesn’t discriminate. People of every age, race, religion, and gender have all died in these mass murders.
Incidents from the past five years have clearly demonstrated that any place can be a target, including universities and college campuses all over North America, and even those poor kids at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The list also includes a Methodist church during bible study and a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. And you can add concerts, movie theatres, and nightclubs to the terror list, via gun, knife, or even speeding car. Sadly, a quick Google search brings up dozens of mass killings that I had completely forgotten about.
I’m not exaggerating. Dozens.
I don’t pretend to know what motivates these people, the ones who carry out these horrific acts, but I’ve convinced myself it’s a combination of depression, hate, mental illness, desperation, and a warped hope for instant fame. That is conjecture on my part, but it’s what I tell myself to sleep at night and not live out the rest of my days in a bunker under my house.
What I am pretty confident about, though, is the common thread amongst the targets of these crimes: they never saw it coming. No one at a mall food court in Toronto, or a pop concert in Manchester, England, or at a music festival on the Las Vegas strip, was bracing themselves for the very worst day of their life. I doubt that many of them looked around to plan an escape route in case there was a shooting. I doubt that many of them imagined they would be going home that night a widow or a widower.
It is easy to convince yourself that you’re not safe anywhere. I’ve done it, and I’ll likely do it again many times. Infomercials sell underground bunkers, insurance companies sell terrorist attack policies, and schools do mass shooting drills – how can we not be terrified sometimes? It’s hard to contradict such pessimism when the news crawl confirms our worst fears on a daily basis.
And yet, I cling to this trace of defiance that still exists inside me, the one that knows it won’t surrender to the people trying – incident by horrible incident – to tear the world apart. The one that recognizes we can’t live our lives in fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So I will go to the mall. And I will go to concerts, and maybe even to Las Vegas, and I will not stop living just because I watch CNN a lot. Because I have to tell myself that good people still outnumber the bad ones. It’s too scary to imagine anything else.