I am at my neighborhood picnic on the river. I watch passing boats and observe the silky ribbons of wake they leave become wider and longer and more expansive as they reach and effortlessly lap the river bank , which in turn absorbs their energy to push the water back into the flow.
I see a neighbor and we are chatting to catch up when her child inquires as to my son’s absence. Younger by several years, this boy is quite fond of him and eagerly asks where he is; questioning what he is doing but really wanting to know why he hasn’t come.
As an afterthought, he wonders aloud does my son still miss his father, not knowing the anniversary of the shooting is close. I look to his mother reassuringly that I am okay with the question. Though I respond “I imagine he does”, I realize I am answering this way simply because that is the right answer to give this young boy. I honestly don’t know the answer.
I don’t know if my son does or doesn’t miss his father because he refuses to talk about him. It has been over a year since I last mentioned his father and was immediately shut down by “I have told you before, I don’t want to talk about him. Don’t mention him again.”
The boy, who is now slightly older than my son was at the time of the shooting, states confidently, as though to inform me of something I might be unaware of, that it is not safe to play with guns. I assume his parents explained what had happened by saying it was an accident, trying to use it as a learning tool.
Five years older now and clearly more discerning, perhaps their earlier explanation no longer satisfies him. He hints at intent as he inquires why my son’s dad shot me and himself if he was only playing with a gun. He attempts to make some sort of sense of what happened. I redirect him that it is never safe to handle a gun.
I am reminded the force of ripples continue from the epicenter until something stops it. Children are swept into and carried with the ever expanding rings of the secrets our house held. From the night before the shooting, ripples expanded out to my children’s friends who were here, encircling their parents who watched the TV news in horror the following day; left to explain to their own children what had happened. Reaching the elementary and middle schools my children attended as they held assemblies to explain the inexplicable offering extra counselors to process, into my church and the greater community, into future generations of children in storytelling; the tide will continue to carry us out with it.
If it had just been me, I might have been silent. When I speak out against violence I most consider the innocent children. My children, their friends, this inquiring child who grapples with information he still cannot and likely will not ever truly understand; for all who lost a little piece of their own childhood as they were pulled into premature wisdom through the knowledge of evil that day, that other children would be spared, I continue to speak.