Too close to home | Chuck's World
I still remember waiting at that intersection. Some of the finer details may be lost, but I remember the important things. I was driving, dropping people off, all of us heading home from college for the weekend.
The light was red; that much I know. That, and when it turned green I hesitated. Just for a moment.
I have no idea why. Maybe I was distracted. Maybe there was no reason. Just for a moment.
But in that moment, a car going very, very fast ran the red light in the other direction. Just zipped through that intersection, late at night, arriving in the middle at about the same time our car should have been in the same spot.
Had I not hesitated. You understand.
All of us could see what should have happened. In our minds, we could visualize the collision, immediately. Our imaginations took our collective breath away. We should have been toast, and for some forever unexplained reason, we weren’t.
But we could still imagine it. We talked about it a few times. The What-If Scenario. t would be hard not to. It was right in front of us.
I don’t usually play the What-If game. It makes my neck ache to look backward in such a complicated way, with so many variables. It feels like a waste of energy, spending any time at all trying to change the past.
Sometimes it comes up, though. Last week, for example, I rescheduled a meeting. It was supposed to be on Thursday afternoon, June 5, but on Wednesday I realized it should be postponed.
It was just a whim, really, a stray thought. I made a call, left a message and arrangements were made.
This meant I didn’t need the car, which meant that my wife didn’t have to take the bus to work on Thursday. She could sleep in a little later and get home a little sooner.
She teaches at a local university, and it’s a busy time for college professors, with classes ending and finals coming up. She could use the extra time.
If she’d taken the bus, she probably would have hung around longer. Done some grading. Taken her time. Waited for the right bus to get her home, after I was back from my appointment so I could pick her up at the park-and-ride. It’s not hard to graph out. She would have still been there.
Instead, she taught her last class, packed up her bags, drove off the campus of Seattle Pacific University, and headed for home. While Aaron Ybarra was heading toward her, massacre on his mind.
I just thought about it, a little. Changing the appointment, changing her schedule. I can’t imagine a scenario in which she would have been anywhere near the line of fire; she probably would have been in her office, a couple of buildings away from Otto Miller Hall.
She would have just been at school a lot longer, in lockdown with the rest, probably trying to be useful and to comfort students. The What-If didn’t bother me. Much.
What bothered me was that for a few hours last week, I got stuck inside the bubble of proximity terror. I’d just been on the SPU campus the past weekend. My wife has taught there for years. It’s a small school, a tight community, a family.
She sat with her phone and her iPad and the local news on, and waited to hear from her students. Students who very well could have been in Otis Miller Hall. Before we knew everything, before we knew anything.
So I learned what it’s like to be on the inside, just a little. To see familiar streets from the copter shots, barricaded and swarming with law enforcement. To see familiar buildings with stretchers outside, waiting.
To completely shut down for a few hours, waiting for news, processing horror, processing relief. Processing proximity.
The SPU shooting drifted off the national news cycle quickly. In the 15 years since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School, we’ve seen a lot of school shootings. This one wasn’t nearly as bad as some. There was other news.
So some stories got missed. Stories about solidarity and community. Stories about how well prepared the university was, how well the drills had worked. Stories about students taking care of each other, surrounding each other with compassion and love.
Young people who had crouched in darkened classrooms, knowing they were being stalked, became an impromptu support group for each other, comforting and sustaining. Pushing aside, maybe, the thoughts that surely are still there.
If Jon Meis hadn’t acted so quickly. If Aaron Ybarra had been carrying an automatic weapon instead of a shotgun. If he hadn’t needed to reload when he did. The What-If Scenarios are hard to let go of, sometimes.
And while the world moves on, SPU will not be the same, not for a long time. School shootings seem to creep into the DNA of institutions, and into some of us in proximity.
We will remember what happened, what didn’t and what might have.
This was close to home. I just have a feeling home got a lot bigger, the news a lot more personal and the empathy a lot more intense.
There will be other school shootings. Next time it won’t be here. It’ll just feel like it.