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I heard the sirens first: so many of them on our normally quiet street. The thought went through my head that – what if? The school is at the end of the road. I am American; shootings are so sickeningly common. 

And when the texts started coming in, they came quickly. 

Four people. Unidentified shooter. 

I saw adults running towards the school. 

Parents running to their children. 

There was no feeling of this can’t happen here because of course this can happen here, this sudden senseless murder; this is the United States of America. Land of the free. 

Inside the house, my child smiled at me. I smiled back, though I was shaking, though I feared I might get sick. Friends called to ask what I knew, what I could see. To express their fear and shock. 

We walked outside. Our neighbors, the ones home for the day, were all standing outside too, looking east, where the police lights flashed. 

Later, I would learn that one teacher at the nearby elementary school gave students lollipops to keep them quiet; he’d had them in his classroom, ready for just this moment. Later, I would hear from teenagers what it was like to see police walking around with huge guns on their campus. 

Later, we would learn it was a hoax. 

There was no shooter. 

There was only this: the fear borne in certainty that there could have been; the parents frantic to see their children; the children themselves in tears, huddled under desks, believing they were about to die. 

It does not have to be this way. 

I have always believed that we are more similar than we are different. In that, I believe most of us love our children in universal ways: with our whole selves. To imagine them not here is so unthinkable, so painful, that my eyes fill with tears just considering it. To know that other parents, other families, have lost people in this senseless, awful way, without any real action taking place to stop it from happening again – I just don’t have words for that.

What does it say about us? Only terrible things.

But if we are so similar, why can’t we agree that we don’t want to live like this, with this constant threat hanging over us, at schools and synagogues and churches and banks and movie theaters and and and and everywhere?

My heart hurts. I know other hearts hurt too. I want to believe that we can change this, somehow. I want to believe in us.

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