I'm convinced that millions of Americans are suffering from a collective form of PTSD.
This isn’t about those who have survived a horrific plane crash, or bank customers ordered to lie face down on a stone-cold floor while armed robbers empty the tills. I’m also not thinking of families leaping out of fiery apartments in the middle of the night wearing only their pajamas, or moms with little kids trapped in mini-vans by sudden flooding.
But here’s what does haunt us: the incessant mass shootings unique to this time in history.
Being a victim of gun violence by a loved one, or even an enemy you know, has always been unsettling. My late partner committed suicide with a gun, and if circumstances had been just a little different that night, he might have taken my daughter and myself out as well. Still, I knew he was depressed, and I knew he was unhinged.
This is different.
As of last month, 334 mass shootings have taken place in 2019 that meet the criteria for this type of event—at least three people (although there are usually more) gunned down at a single location. Often, victims have no connection with the shooter. Broken down further, that’s 1.24 mass shootings every single day in the United States, with 1,347 persons injured and 377 dying, for a total of 1,684 victims. Nearly all of the perps are troubled young white males, and most were born and raised in America.
After one of these massacres—yes, the word is accurate—our government leaders offer up “thoughts and prayers.”
There’s nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to real solutions and real courage—for instance, standing up to
the NRA by passing a federal law that keeps weapons that are expressly designed for a military battlefield out of the hands of ordinary citizens, and forbidding those with a history of violent mental illness to never be allowed to buy any gun—they are cowards.
We send our children to school knowing they’ll be taught active shooter drills, but we don’t think much about the long-term psychological damage of these exercises to their young brains. We don’t know if a disgruntled employee at our workplace will go home at lunch, and then return to kill every colleague in sight. We also can’t shop at a supermarket without scoping out supply rooms and bathrooms that a gunman might not know about.
I know the back way out of my yoga studio, but I’m not sure about my hair salon.
I didn’t realize how little it took to shake up my PTSD until last week.
I was in a check-out line at my favorite supermarket. Two folks were in front of me when suddenly, a bearded and disheveled young man cut ahead of us. He began to shout at both the cashier and the woman whose purchases were being rung up.
“This is a mistake!” he yelled. “You need to be in the self check-out line! Take your stuff and come with me now!
The fear in our line wasn’t imaginary. We were crowded together and there was no way to run. Was this man, who was extremely upset, about to brandish a gun? Was he then going to shot the cashier and the woman, and then us?
Thankfully, our cashier knew what not to say: she didn’t tell him to calm down, or inform him that she couldn’t undo the transaction.
She kept her voice low.
"We will make this work," she told him. "Some of these groceries have been rung up, but let's separate them. You’ll be able to take everything to the self check-out line. It's all okay."
The man relaxed and he and the woman he was shouting at moved away. The rest of us gazed at each another, and heaved an audible sigh of relief.
This time, I was lucky.
However, I’ll keep looking for hiding places as I run my errands. Because on another day, I might not be so fortunate.