My daughter points to the gunman and asks, “Is that a bad man?”
We watch the terrible news unfold at the school shooting just minutes away, not realizing Blair has entered the living room.
I stare at her green eyes. It’s a yes-or-no question. But it’s not simple. Or concrete, like when we play Candyland and you pick the Lollipop card and take that spot on the board.
Instead of answering Blair, I’m silent. I think of the many school shootings that have rocked our nation since Columbine in 1999, most of which Blair, 5 years old, never heard of.
FULL COVERAGE: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
The strip at the bottom of the television reads 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen. One of the worst school shootings on record.
I tell Blair that a sad, angry man hurt people and will go to jail, and that seems to satisfy her curiosity for the moment. Then I think of the 17 families that lost someone, and that hollow feeling returns to my stomach. The same punch to the gut every time I hear about another shooting.
So I do what I do when I get that sick feeling. I write. Get thoughts on paper. To try and make some sense.
I hammer it into my head. Yes, it happened at Douglas High, the pride of Parkland, a community known for its safety and close-knit families. Where I have friends.
According to reports, since the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, there has been an average of at least one school shooting per week.
So how do we stop it?
Fingers have pointed at violent video games and movies, mental illness, gangs, terrorism plots, cyberbullying, revenge, sparse gun control and social media gone wrong. To name a few.
Unlike the cards in Candyland, the answer isn’t easy. But I know this – every attacker in every shooting shares the fact they felt alone or alienated somehow. Shunned, ignored, humiliated, bullied, isolated.
The two killers in the Columbine shootings were constantly harassed and bullied, and one of them wrote in his journal about his hatred for the human race.
Another shooting occurred in 2007 that killed 32 people on Virginia Tech’s campus. Picked on by other students at a young age, the shooter was described by his college professors as a troubled loner.
The shooter of the Newtown massacre was described in various articles as friendless and isolated.
Every time a shooting happens, I look at pictures of the slain and that knot tightens in in my stomach.
All because of attackers so utterly lost that they resort to the unthinkable.
It used to be okay to feel alone. In “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” Dr. Seuss says alone is something you’ll be quite a lot. But in the end you’ll succeed, “98 ¾ percent guaranteed”.
Now, being alone is a crisis. Somehow, we’ve lost our ability to cope. And have hope for someone utterly abandoned from the American dream of love and family that’s supposed to be so easy to reach.
As I kiss my daughter good night, I look deep into her green eyes. She wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes tight. She’s tucked safely under the covers. The television is still on in the other room, recounting the day’s carnage.
Yes, Blair, there are bad men in the world. Lost, hopeless, desperate, and alone bad men. Some live nearby, and I can’t always protect you from them. And I’ll never be the same.
FARAN FAGEN, CORAL SPRINGS
Editor’s note: Fagen is a teacher at Pembroke Pines Charter High School in Broward County. His daughter, Emily, attends a pre-school program at Taravella High in Coral Springs.