Airports were always happy places for me. They contained the expectation of adventure and were filled with people going somewhere, and I was one of those people, too. Every summer, my brother and I boarded a plane in Rochester, NY, and followed a daisy chain of connecting flights to end in Anchorage, Alaska, over 4,000 miles away.
Moving walkways, subways, escalators... airports were the only place where I saw grownups walk with the same fast, excited steps as children. I tried to pass on this feeling of excitement to my two sons, but we live in a grimmer age. I told them that TSA was looking for hamsters in their pockets when we went through security. That worked for a few years, but eventually they caught on. They learned about 9/11. They’ve heard about hijackings and plane crashes unrelated to terrorists.
And now, they’ll learn about the Ft. Lauderdale shooting.
We’ve been through that airport, my children and I. It is the first place they have been that has had a mass shooting. We know those airport halls. We remember the occasional birds that found their way inside the terminal.
I don’t want my children to be afraid. I wish I could beg the world to be kinder. I wish someone had found every would-be shooter back when they were children and hugged them and give them what they needed to not grow up to think this was their answer. I don’t understand violence, especially violence toward strangers. No, the word especially isn’t right, because I don’t understand violence towards people you know, either.
I don’t know how to explain it to my children. I don’t know how to interject thoughts of people running and dying into memories of what was once our happy place. Obviously, I can refuse to say anything. I can block them from the news. But children notice things, and my children and I fly often. We flew this month, and we will fly again next month. I’m not going to stop flying with my children, but I hope to God that I don’t come to regret it.
I can’t say that I wish the world was more like the world I grew up in. There were 30 aircraft hijackings in the 1980s, which was when I flew several times a year, often unaccompanied. The world has never been safe, and never will be. What I had then that I don’t have now is ignorance about how horrible the world was. Although I’d like to keep my kids in an information bubble, that ship sailed as soon as I sent them to school. I can no longer hide them from the evils of the world. But I can show them that although bad things happen, I am not going to let them stop me. I am not going to let our world become smaller until we are too afraid to leave the house. And I can tell them that I am afraid, too, but courage is being afraid and acting anyway. Not being afraid is too much to ask of any of us.