I remember our family’s vacation at the Grand Floridian hotel at Disney World. We went there with my parents as a special treat seven years ago, when my daughters were then ages five and two. I remember my two-year-old, scampering around the lagoon and the beaches of the hotel, as two-year-olds will do.
Yesterday, the body of two-year-old Lane Graves was found after an alligator dragged him away from shallow water during an outdoor evening movie night at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort, the same resort where my two-year-old played. Where thousands of two-year-olds have played, because the area is designed to invite play, even at the water’s edge. Because, you know, a BEACH. And Disney. And family movie night outside on that beach.
Anyone who has parented small children knows that they love to play in the sand and at the edge of the water on the beach, even wading in the shallowest parts. To be clear, this is not the same as swimming.
Yet the first thing that so many people are saying, in response to this horrific, tragic death of a little boy, is “Well, there was a ‘No Swimming’ sign, so the parents are to blame.”
The Internet has revealed its darkest side, yet again, with many “perfect people” blaming the parents because there were No Swimming signs posted. To all those who want to focus on the specifics of the sign instead of the bigger tragedy, let’s get semantically technical: wading in a foot of water with a watchful parent extremely nearby, which is exactly what the boy was doing, is the same type of behavior that many of us would see as reasonable. The father was so close by that he wrestled the alligator in a desperate attempt to free his baby from its jaws.
A No Swimming sign is entirely different from a sign that says Warning: Alligators In Lagoon. Do Not Go Near Water’s Edge. The boy’s family was from Nebraska, and it is unlikely that they would have known the habits of alligators, nor even the presence of alligators. Disney World attracts millions of visitors from around the globe, and many thousands of other children have played in the water’s edge at the lagoon. There but for the grace of God go we. The only lessons to be learned from this terrible event are that better signage is needed, and that we must never lose our respect for the natural habits of wild animals living in proximity to us.
In fact, the Grand Floridian’s OWN promo ad used for marketing actually shows PEOPLE WALKING in a foot of water at the same lagoon where Lane Graves was killed:
I had trouble sleeping last night, torturing myself by imagining what it would feel like to watch my two-year-old being dragged under by a gator, knowing what was certain to follow. The only words that I can offer to the Graves family are these:
You have endured a trauma that is unthinkable. Your loss is horrific, immeasurable in its scale. You are not at fault. You were so brave, trying to save your son from a creature that is no match for humans in its jaw strength. May you eventually find some peace from the haunting images that are imprinted in your mind, and may you remember your baby boy’s life as one that was filled with love and devotion.
To those on the Internet who are so quick to judge and blame the victims, have compassion and be kind. It’s been a painful week for our country, particularly for Orlando. The preventable, senseless shooting deaths of 49 people at Pulse nightclub, the alligator attack on Lane Graves, these tragedies leave deep scars.
You are saying the wrong thing if you start with “the parents should have . . .” or “the parents shouldn’t have. . .”
Because the only thing you need to say is, “We are so very sorry for your loss.”
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