She took off her glasses and started wiping her eyes as she spoke softly into the phone. "Oh, Michael. I'm so, so sorry."
As I listened from the other room, my chest tightened. My wife was catching up with our son in the Twin Cities. We learned a friend of his from Viterbo College, Jake Beneke, was shot to death. He was one of 10 victims - six dead, four wounded - in the shooting at Accent Signage in late September. The gunman, an employee who was terminated, fired methodically at those inside the shop. Then he turned the gun on himself. Utterly senseless.
Michael recalled Jake. He was a gentle soul and wondered "Why him? He was a real passive guy. He wouldn't hurt anyone," and trying to attach some rational thought to what happened, "I don't even think he would even have rushed the shooter. He was that kind of guy."
Jake's roommate and Michael's best friend, when he heard the news, had an immediate admonition for my son. "Michael, next time it better not be you."
Michael listened. His fiance suggested they take a firearms class and they talked about how to protect themselves.
He called me for advice. "Which handgun would be best?" "What should we look for in a shooting range?" "What about at work?" But it really came down to "Dad, how can I stay safe and protect the ones I love?"
We talked for awhile. It was natural after someone close to you dies a violent death to put yourself in the same situation and wonder "What if?" You want to be prepared.
Some of us are good at using hindsight to make sense of senselessness, to reassemble order in our lives, to put an event in some context we can hope to understand. But sometimes there is no understanding.
Predictably, there are calls for banning handguns as though those are the only weapons that kill. Conversely, others want everyone armed to defend themselves believing everyone has the capability of taking a life, regardless. I've heard all the pros and cons. There is no one answer for all of us.
This I believe. There are disturbed people in the world. More than we want to believe but less than some people fear. Sometimes the safety net you think is there has rips and you don't see them until it's too late.
But, in this country, ordinary people shouldn't have to live in constant hyper-vigilance waiting for evil to occur. And we shouldn't be so oblivious to our existence we miss signs of something about to go terribly wrong. How do you recognize those signs? Which are real red flags and which are just something odd? And more importantly what do you do?
Instinct comes with age and wisdom is wasted on the old - unless it is passed on. The advice I gave my son is for my son only, rooted in my experience. I don't know if it's right but, in today's world, we all at least should be having that discussion without hyperbole or a misplaced conviction there is one true answer.