By Melissa Cohen
(Kveller via JTA) – “I’m so scared for your synagogue,” my (non-Jewish) mother said to me as we were driving the other day. We were talking about my daughter’s schedule — religious school was on the agenda for that afternoon — and she had asked me about our synagogue’s security following the terrible attack in Pittsburgh.
I was silent for a minute, and then told her that I’m scared all the time now. I’m scared when I go to the library; I’m scared when I go to the mall. I hesitate before I get into an elevator with strangers, and I think about bombings and guns when I go to school assemblies with my kids. The fear is ever present. It’s something I’ve learned to endure, if not fully accept.
I send two of my children to public schools. Every day, I drop them off knowing there might be a live shooter drill that day. One day last year, while I was volunteering in the school library. I happened to be alone with my daughter’s first-grade class when the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the school was going on lockdown.
Following the rules, I turned off the lights. I kept the door shut, the kids hidden from sight and as quiet as possible. But I aimed to keep the tone light and tried to sell the kids on the idea that if you had to be locked in a room somewhere, a library was clearly the ideal spot. It didn’t help much — two of them cried quietly the whole time.
We live in a scary, scary world right now; every day there are atrocities and horrors. I switch off the news when my 8-year-old daughter comes into the room. Sometimes, when I take a step back and think about these things, I wonder how any of us manage to get through the day. How do we continue to go about our everyday lives, when there are babies being ripped from their mother’s arms, when old men and women are shot while wrapped in prayer shawls and holding prayer books? When voting, reposting memes on social media and protesting feel so hopelessly inadequate, but you don’t know how else to fix things?
I don’t have any answers. I assured my mother that there are panic buttons connected directly to the police department in various places through our synagogue, and cameras everywhere so everything is monitored. Doors are locked, and we’re careful and aware of the danger. I don’t know that she felt any better; I know I didn’t. But the truth is, I’m not any more afraid at the synagogue than I am anywhere else. Nor do I feel any safer there.
Instead of dwelling on my anxieties, I try to focus on my kids, on how smart and loving they are. I focus on my husband — how lucky we are to have each other, and to be able to have this family and this life together. I try to find meaning in the small things, like the chicken soup I make for my congested teenager or the laundry I hang so it won’t wrinkle.
I read as many analyses as I can — I’m always trying to learn more, to understand how we got to this place and how to make it better. Counting down the days to the election, I sent postcards to voters and wondered if it would make any difference.
I’m afraid, all the time. I’m also angry, disgusted and discouraged.
I’m realizing, too, that none of these feelings are going to go away, so I have to find a way to do everything. But on top of the carpools, my writing, the errand-running and so on, I am learning my primary task is to raise children who aren’t angry, disgusted and discouraged. They need to know that there is right and there is wrong, and they have to be the ones to stand up and change it.
There is still sunshine in the world, puppies with tails that wag so hard you worry they might break and children who make you laugh. There are friends who will meet you for coffee when you need to complain, husbands who pour you coffee before you get out of bed and moms who will always worry about you, no matter what.
I don’t know how to make things better, or if there is anything that’s going to make a tangible difference in what’s happening in our world today. But I know that we have to keep trying, even if the only thing we’re doing is making our little corner of the world a better place to be.
(Melissa Cohen is a mom and freelance writer living in central Massachusetts. She has been blogging since 2008 at melissaannecohen.com, and has been published in CJVoices, InterfaithFamily, Mothering and BlogHer.)
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