I do not know him.
I do not know his circumstances.
I do not know his story.
All I need to know is he was arrested near my children's school, steps from my home, carrying a loaded shotgun.
I stayed up half the night trying to find the right way to share my feelings about a subject too many of us deal with -- community violence -- and just don't want to touch.
Starting and abandoning this post numerous times last night, I walked away from my laptop in complete frustration.
I even considered posting happy things on Facebook, just to clear my head. Finally, I forced myself to sleep, then woke up with bloodshot eyes, and knew: this cannot be ignored.
Reading through online conversations from last night, I noticed a pattern, similar to grief, in which I'd found myself actively engaged. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. I flew through these emotions at a surprisingly accelerated rate. Here's how it's played out:
I heard about the arrest Monday, 10/17/16, the day that it happened. I took in the details, yet I did not -- could not -- process their depth. I remained focused on other matters, on my own life. The issue sounded horrible, and I expressed genuine concern, yet it felt like someone else's problem. I was glad police were handling the situation. My life went on.
On the following day, Tuesday, this Patch.com column came out. Seeing the details in black and white, it finally registered how close the arrest actually happened to my home.
To my children's school.
And I thought, Wait a minute. Wait just one minute. What the hell? A LOADED SHOTGUN? Near the SCHOOL?
I was furious, but not just with the situation. I was angry with myself for my delayed response to the news. I was actually angry that I hadn't gotten angrier sooner. And as those confusing feelings poured in, so did comments all over social media, people reacting to the column, expressing even more anger. At one point, I posted this:
My Facebook Post: What can I do or to whom can I reach out when a member of my community's been jailed for carrying a loaded shotgun near my child's school -- and I'm determined to see that person remain there. I could not be more serious. Enough.
As the discussion grew louder and emotions piqued, I actually got scared.
Not just about the individual and the gun, but about the swirling reaction from the community. One friend's incendiary comment on Facebook took my breath away. I couldn't blame him for his feelings, as I was right there with him. But thoughts of how his anger would be received by the individual and his family took over. Thinking about the shame they'd feel reading his comments, I reached out to my friend privately, asking to take his comments down. And he did. Somewhere deep inside, I just wanted peace, and I knew statements like his would block that path.
Thankfully, this friend is reasonable. But we are, after all, a community in shock, and feelings are feelings, especially when we feel threatened. It's primal. We need to feel safe. And I realized the guy with the gun, at his core, needs to feel safe, too. So I followed my own advice and modified my own Facebook post to reflect my evolving feelings:
My Facebook Post (Edit #1): Additional thoughts added to original post in ALL CAPS: What can I do or to whom can I reach out when a member of my community's been jailed for carrying a loaded shotgun near my child's school -- and I'm determined to see that person remain there FOR NOW? I could not be more serious. Enough. AND HOW CAN MY COMMUNITY COME TOGETHER TO SUPPORT THIS FAMILY IN CRISIS?
I look at crisis as a battle between reason and reaction. If and when one of those behaviors dominates, it tends to feel like one of those things loses out...allowing depression the opportunity to sneak right in.
It's reasonable to want a safe community. And it's understandable to see angry reactions when safety is threatened.
But trying to write about my reaction to the news -- while seeking and encouraging reasonable action -- proved overwhelming last night. I felt paralyzed by indecision. Something needed to be done, but what? Someone needed to be contacted, but who? This family clearly needs help, but in what way?
I added this comment in my Facebook post's comments: "I'm honestly so damn tired of having this type of conversation again and again and again. And yet here we are. [This] family is in crisis. Our community is swirling with concern and anger and worry [...] This is happening everywhere. We all want the same thing. We all want ONE thing. We want it to stop."
Feelings of frustration -- and so many questions and concerns -- flooded my mind. And after awhile, all I wanted to do was close my laptop and avoid the subject altogether. I didn't curl up in a ball under the covers, but it's the same principle: when we're flooded with conflicting emotions, we're drained and exhausted; self-preservation kicks in, and sometimes, the only way to deal is to step away. If we're lucky, we can do that. If we can't stop thinking about what's happened in the past, that's depression. If we keep anticipating what might happen in the future, that's anxiety.
If we just stop and stay mindful of what's happening in the moment, it might feel like we're going nowhere -- but it's actually progress. When I recognized how exhausted I was, and forced myself to sleep, I think I gave myself permission to stop dwelling and worrying. I cleared my head. And I avoided getting sucked in to the sheer negativity of the situation. And I think that's what helped me move through what could have been a "holding pattern" of negativity, a.k.a. depression.
Waking up this morning with a (tired but) fresh set of eyes, I sifted through the online discussions and quickly identified the statements that moved the conversations forward. Every one was a comment with compassion:
"I'm just not sure the goal is to keep a 20 year old in jail, though. Makes me furious that he's walking around with a shotgun and no license, but I also worry about his future!"
"Can I respectfully ask the very difficult question of how our responses might be different if this young man did not come from an upper class upbringing in Evanston?" which led to further discussion about empathy and acceptance.
"This young man is someone's child and he is an Evanstonian. NOT offering any excuses for his illegal behavior and very poor choices, but [...] he is still someone's child. And very likely one of his parent's are friends with, possibly one of you, or someone you might know. Again, I'm not condoning his choices and actions [...] grateful to the officer who recognized him and saw clear to stopping him and inspecting the backpack [...]. But indeed, jailing him indefinitely (not likely to happen anyway) isn't really what we should be going for, rather we should be hoping his family has the resources to get him into a drug rehabilitation program so he can turn his life around [...]"
And when acceptance replaced denial and anger, things started to happen, and positive suggestions like these were made:
•"Maybe some day he too could be working at a place like Curt's Cafe and truly making strides at turning his life around." [link added]
•"You might want to connect with Momsdemandaction.org in Evanston.
•"State's Attorney's office is responsible for prosecutions. Reminder that it's important to make informed decisions at the polls for those elections, for judges, etc."
•"You can research IL judges here: voteforjudges.org"
•"Would the Moran center be a resource in this situation?" [link added]
•"I really would love people to join the Dear Evanston page so that Evanstonians have a central place to discuss these issues and come together to find solutions--instead of all of us having segmented conversations just among our own."
My Facebook Post (Edit #2): I keep modifying this post as I seek ways to find peace. What can I do or to whom can I reach out when a member of my community's been jailed for carrying a loaded shotgun near my child's school? AND HOW CAN MY COMMUNITY COME TOGETHER TO SUPPORT FAMILIES, LIKE HIS, IN CRISIS?
And yet, what are we truly doing to help this FAMILY?
•...sorry for what they're going through.
•...sorry there isn't this kind of outpouring and concern when those of different skin colors are involved in the same issues.
•...proud of my community for engaging in this discussion.
•in awe of my community members who've followed up on this matter out of concern for everyone.
•...aware of the different stages we go through in a crisis like this, and that everyone's affected in different ways at different times.
•...reminded, yet again, how desperately insufficient mental health care is in this nation, particularly for young adults, and
•...deeply concerned about what happens next.
As of now, the prosecutor on the case reports that the man will remain in jail, without bond, until at least 11/10/16, when he faces trial.
A young man was arrested near my children's school, steps from my home, carrying a loaded shotgun.
I do not know him.
I do not know his circumstances.
I do not know his story.
I do not know how to help him or how to support his family.
But with this post, I'm offering a willingness to try, and asking readers to do the same.