Houston we have a problem…

It was a two hour drive by myself.  It was a place I had never been before.  My GPS got me to the general area and then I searched for the tell-tale signs of Pride.  I saw a group of people standing with colorful shirts that said ‘Love is Love” along with balloons the color of the rainbow and I knew I was in the right place.  I sat in my car and waited my turn in line to get directions on where to go.  I pulled up and rolled down my window, gave my name, and told the person holding the clipboard that I was there for Free Mom Hugs Maryland.  The young man directing traffic welcomed me, handed me an envelope and told me it had important information in it.

I got my car unloaded, parked it in the parking garage, and set out to have a great day.  After getting all of my items set up and organized, I sat at my table and began to write notes of affirmation for my poster board.  It was then that I remembered the envelope I was given.  I got it out and scattered the contents across my table.  There was a list of all of the vendors, a map of where each vendor was located, and an evacuation plan.

Evacuation plan…hmmm.  We weren’t anywhere that there would be fires like poor California had been dealing with.  We weren’t anywhere near water where we would have to worry about flooding.  There weren’t any big storms threatening to ruin our day.  Evacuation plan in case of…could it be…in case of a shooter?

My heart skipped a beat.  I was totally unfamiliar with the area.  I would only know one person that day and she would only be with me for an hour.  And just five weeks prior I had been in one of the most terrifying situations I believe I’ve ever been in at DC Pride…

I had never been to Pride in DC and when I found out my son and his boyfriend were going I did some schedule rearranging so that I could go.  In fact, the whole family went (smile).  Mike, McKensie and I took the metro down and Kyle and his friends drove down.  THERE WERE SO MANY PEOPLE THERE!  It was by far the most crowded Pride event I had ever attended.  There were places where you had to walk sideways to get through the mobs of people on the sidewalks and there were people pushing against the front of you and the back of you as you squeezed by.  It was so crowded that it was pretty much impossible at first to meet up with Kyle.  We decided to watch the parade and try to find each other afterwards.  Towards the end of the parade McKensie and I got really hungry so we decided to head back towards the restaurants right by Dupont Circle.  I texted Kyle to let him know where we were and he said they would head there soon.  They got there just as we finished our meal.  We were standing outside of the restaurant talking about our day so far.  We took a picture to have a memory of our time together.  It was then that I noticed the shift in the mood of the crowd.

I happened to look up from the camera and I saw a rush of people coming towards us.  It looked like a human stampede.  By the looks on their faces, I knew something was terribly wrong.  As people got closer, they were yelling “Shooter…someone is shooting.”  It was then that my worse fear came true or so I thought.  I always think about safety when I go to these events.  I hear way too many stories of violence against the LGBTQ community to think that this could never happen.

We quickly looked around trying to figure out what to do.  People were everywhere and we had no idea what was happening so we ran into the restaurant that we had just left.  The manager welcomed us in and the two policemen that were outside standing in the street were headed for the place people were running from.  The restaurant was nothing but windows so I can’t say I felt very safe in there.  My mind was racing wondering what we would do if we happened to see the shooter coming our way.  All of my senses seemed to be on the highest of alerts.  There really was no place to go and we were totally unfamiliar with our surroundings.  I can’t explain the helplessness I felt in not being able to protect my kids.  It doesn’t matter how old they get…you always want to protect them.

When it seemed like things had calmed down, we stepped outside of the restaurant again to figure out what to do.  People were walking around crying.  The place where this community should feel safe was now a place of terror.

We decided that we were done for the day.  We all pretty much wanted to get as far away from there as we could.  It took us a minute to get our bearings to figure out where the parking garage was located.  We started on our way and passed by a large amount of police in Dupont Circle in a circle formation.  In the middle was a guy on the ground in handcuffs.  As we headed down the street towards the garage, a second wave of people came running towards us in a panic.  They were running up to doors shaking and pulling on the handles trying to get into businesses, but the doors were locked.  There were car horns honking because people were running into the streets to get away from we didn’t know what.  There were almost constant sirens from ambulances and police cars because people had gotten trampled from the first stampede of people.  There were helicopters flying overhead.  It truly was like something you would see in a movie.  We were able to step out of the way of the panic into an alcove of a building.  Again…I felt like we were just sitting ducks waiting to meet our fate.

We finally got the kids to their car and we made it to the metro station.  There were people on the metro that looked shell shocked.  What did we all just experience?  McKensie went on Twitter and there were all kinds of stories circulating.  I really can’t tell you for sure what happened.  I do know that there weren’t any shots fired.  There was an altercation and a weapon (which may have been a realistic looking BB gun).  When people saw that, they panicked and in doing so, knocked over the heavy barricades that in turn sounded like shots being fired.   Which is why when people got to us outside of the restaurant they thought that shots had been fired.  We believe the second round of panic was just a delayed reaction of word getting around since there were so many people.  The people at the end of the parade route had no idea that anything had even happened.

None of us were familiar with DC.  We had no idea where we were or where we should go when the people were headed for us.  Now at this event I found myself again in a place that I was not familiar with so you can believe that I studied that map that was given to me in my information packet.  I tried to push my experience in DC from my mind.  Like I mentioned…safety is always on my mind at these events.  But this time it was a little more real.

Even though there wasn’t a shooter that day in DC, we didn’t know that at the time.  It was a very real danger in our minds while it was happening.  There are still nights when I go to bed that when I close my eyes I see the terrified faces of those people running towards me.  And then there are the nights that I spend all night running from the danger of someone with a gun.  I truly cannot imagine what the kids of all of the school shootings go through.  I have no idea how they grace the threshold of their schools again.  In these cases, they have seen the shooter, heard the shots, and in some cases, have lost friends.  It’s tragic.  And as I’m sure you know…it’s not just schools, but places of business, churches, temples, shopping centers, neighborhoods, night clubs…the list goes on.  When will it stop??

I did a little research on the saying, “Houston we have a problem.”  Turns out that it’s not actually what was said by Jack Swigert and repeated by James Lovell on the Apollo 13 moon flight.  They actually said, “Houston we’ve had a problem.”  The movie writers changed it to the other phrase.  The original phrase was used to report a life-threatening fault in their equipment.  Now that phrase is used to report any sort of problem…usually in a joking manner.  Well the situation we have in this country is no joking matter.

Image by Nick Fewings

And ‘America we’ve had this problem’ for a long time.  When bulletproof backpacks are on back to school shopping lists, we have a problem.  When kids are afraid to have light up shoes because they might give them away when they are hiding from a shooter, we have a problem.  When kids write I love you mom and dad on their arms in lock downs in case they die, we have a problem.  Sadly I don’t think anything will be done about the violence in this country until it hits close to home for the politicians.  There is so much division.  People seem to have lost all sense of empathy.

One example that comes to mind is all of the comments I see on FB about people being easily offended.  They seem to be offended by people being easily offended.  Craziness right?  I wonder if they’ve ever stopped to wonder why someone is offended.  Chances are it is personal to them.  I spent hours at this particular pride event in front of a group of church people holding signs that were condemning the LGBTQ community.  You could say I was offended by them.

I think the life-threatening problem we have going on is a lack of love.  What would it look like if we taught our kids a different way with not only our words, but with our actions?  Take up for the underdog.  Pay attention to who is lonely.  Actually see people.

I think loving others is our greatest command from God because He knew how important it was for us humans.  And it’s not easy…because love is…

Patient…
It is kind…
It does not envy…
It does not boast…
It is not proud…
It does not dishonor others…
It is not self-seeking…
It is not easily angered…
It keeps no record of wrongs…
It does not delight in evil…
It rejoices with truth…
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails!

I think if we could follow this definition of love we would live in a much gentler, kinder world.  How great would it be if we could say, “America we used to have a problem,” but love stepped in and healed it.

No one said it would be easy.  Love is hard…but it matters.

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