My heart is full because I read this book.

The beginning of the pandemic was a chaotic, extreme anxiety provoking, fearful time. On top of a deadly virus killing off human beings physically, there was the political rhetoric in the United States of America that was killing us emotionally. Once maniacal political drama subsided, we started getting hopeful about vaccines and then plunged right back into uncertainties about our turn, distribution, fairness, cutting in line, guilt. Now we are slowly opening up and again we are anxious about our ability to mingle with human kind while keeping everyone safe. Phew! That was an exhausting overview.

Amidst all this, I read a lot of books. Last night, I stayed up till midnight (despite it being a work week) to finish a children’s fiction called The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart. It filled me up with a warm fuzzy feeling as I read the last page, smiled at the fact that Gemeinhart was an elementary school teacher/librarian and thanked him for giving this reader solace during these times.

Twelve year old Coyote lives on a school bus driven by her dad Rodeo. They have been crisscrossing the country in that school bus for the last five years which they converted into their home. Five years ago, Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash when she was just seven years old. Since then, her dad left their home in Poplar Springs and drove around with her in their mobile home, the school bus named Yager. They stop at gas stations to fill up with gas, get food – most importantly slushies, and when Coyote can find a kind lady with a cell phone who lets her use it, she calls her grandma at Poplar Springs. Grandma always asks when she was coming home. But Coyote does not have an answer because Coyote and Rodeo do not plan to go home which, they fear, will bring back memories that will torment them for ever. During one such phone conversation, grandma tells Coyote that the park where she used to play with her sisters is being torn up by the city to turn it into a parking lot. But Coyote has a memory box buried underneath a tree in that park which she must rescue. The memory box was created by her mother and her sisters. They intended to go back for it after 10 years but 5 days after burying the memory box, her mom and sisters died in the car crash. Now Coyote needs to get her father to drive back home in exactly four days before the construction begins but she can not tell him that they are going back to Poplar Springs because going back is a hard ‘no go’ with Rodeo. So Coyote must plan to get her way without letting Rodeo know that they were actually heading home. Who knew the journey home is going to be the most difficult one? But Coyote is nothing but tenacious. She figures out a plan to make Rodeo drive in the direction of home. And during their journey back Coyote picks up some misfits who are also searching for their own destinations. There is Lester who needs to find his lady love, Salvador and her mama, Esperanza Vega is running away from a difficult situation, Val is looking for acceptance and of course Gladys needs to go to her mom. But 12 year old Coyote’s first friend, before others joined them, was a cool kitty named Ivan.

The writing is so full of heart, Coyote is such a fierce and spunky girl who carries her sorrow with such bravery and compassion, Rodeo may look like a bearded hippie but one has to look into his eyes and see the kindness that is brimming in him. Everything about this book touched my soul, the tragedy, Coyote and Rodeo’s grief, their overwhelming love for each other and humanity, the friendship, the good will. The author does not shield his young readers from the harshness/reality of life. Life is not easy, tragedies happen, violence happens, lack of acceptance happens but to balance the scale there is love, kindness, friendship, good will and most importantly resilience. The will to continue on this beautiful journey called life wins at the end.

Tragedy struck…

I found out about the shooting in the Columbia mall within minutes after it happened. A co worker radioed the information to us and we clicked on the internet right away to find out more. As I read the little snippet of information on the web, my brain clicked furiously as to determine what my next action should be. The decision was not hard to take, I needed to call my family and hear their voices. I called and heard an enthusiastic “Hello Mama!” as Sahana picked up the phone. The greeting, her voice, the innocence in it and the enthusiasm jarred me somewhat, as my shocked brain registered the contrast – her complete ignorance that an evil has fallen in our community and the horrific tragedy itself. Her sweet, happy voice was a salve to my disturbed soul. A relief too, that my family was safely ensconced in our home and in their ignorance of the evil – for the moment. They were spared a few more minutes of peace of mind. The fact that these are the precious lives that are in jeopardy as the rage in the world reaches its zenith leaves me dispirited and weary at times. I wonder about this inexplicable rage that made an unassuming young man of nineteen years bring a shot gun to a mall and gun down innocent people.

As we waited for more information, I fervently hoped that the investigators would find some sort of connection between the shooter and the two victims – a twenty one year old mother and a twenty five year old young man, who, I later found out attended a high school which is couple of miles from my house. I thought if there was a relationship between the shooter and the victims, I could find some solace, if any is to be had, that this was vengeance or retribution or grievance, and not random or mindless. I believe, I, like many others, wanted a reason, a meaning, a ‘why’ for this dastardly act. Well, there were none to be had. Investigators found no connection….yet. That concerned me the most. The shooting is heinous, the deaths, so tragic. But the randomness is spine tinglingly scary, for me at least.

I got through that day, busy in my work and after work, the shooting remained in the corner of my mind however, as an unhappy, unwelcome fear. As I went to bed, the fear took form and loomed large. The mall, where Aguilar brought his shotgun, is our community’s place of comfort. My friends who grew up here, spent there youth going to the mall. The mall, for my kids, represents carousel rides, McDonald treats, Stride rite shoes, movies. My daughter watches back to back movies at the mall with her friends. I drop her off and drive away, completely complacent about her safety. On a cold winter day, ‘Lets go to the mall’ brings coats and gloves out without anymore reminders.

I felt violated that night as I thought of the shooting. I felt robbed of ownership of my ‘happy place’, and vulnerable as well. I did not feel anger, it was more fear and helplessness. I feared for my family and myself.

As I lay there, afraid, I also realized I can not live in fear of randomness. That would be living in perpetual fear of when and where disaster would strike. How binding is that kind of living?

I can not talk gun control anymore. That thought tires me too. The problem, obviously, lies deeper than just gun control. We need to figure out why young men like Darion Marcus Aguilar, who turned vegan a year ago because he saw a tv show on how the animals are slaughtered, becomes a slaughterer of his fellow beings.

A friend of mine, visited the mall the day it reopened. She couldn’t stay more than a few minutes, she said, because she needed to breathe. But she was happy she went, she felt part of this wonderful community that we belong to. She will go back again. And so will I, this week. I will go back and roam around the mall to reclaim the ownership of our happy place. We don’t move on from a tragedy like this. It is now ingrained in our fabric of life, but while remembering these lives lost, we live on. We live on, and perhaps, join our heads together to come up with solutions, resolutions, positive actions. I felt comfortable and safe seeing how the police and the county officials handled the crises. I believe my children understood tragedy happens but good people out there outnumber the bad. And that is a happy thought. Their world is not a perfect place and they too, when their turn comes, need to work on it.

I needed to air out my thoughts and I needed to remember. Thank you, if you read this.

Peace be with you all.

How many more will it take?

Another mindless killing. Little children this time, between the ages of 5 and 7. They must have woken up in the morning, hugged, kissed and coaxed by their mammas and papas, fed wholesome breakfast, dressed warmly to fend off the cold and sent off to school just like any other regular day. Moms and dads waved goodbye and said, ‘Have a good day, sweetheart! Listen to your teachers and try your best!’

Did they realize that would be their final goodbye? No they didn’t. The thought of saying their final goodbyes didn’t enter their heads because they didn’t live in a war stricken country. They lived in an upscale, quiet, peaceful town of Newtown, Connecticut with a total population of 27000 people. People migrate here in America, legally and illegally, to pursue that American dream of leading a better life. And people here own the right to bear arms to defend themselves – the arms which end up taking the lives of innocent children, again and again and again. Those arms fall into the hands of people with mental health problems and they cease to be means of self-defense, they become deadly weapons that shed the blood of innocent, of babes, of little lives who had gone to school like any other regular day!

Our President is shocked, I have no doubt. He shed tears and I do believe those tears are genuine. He is, first and foremost, a parent. He feels the loss, he grieves. But will those tears bring forth any truly meaningful actions as he promised? Will he have the courage to tell the members of National Rifle association that “Enough already, too much blood has already been spilled because politicians, over the years, needed to appease you for those precious votes!” Will he do something right about bringing stringent laws about gun control which, it is obvious, this nation needs.

Sure guns don’t fire by themselves, people pull the trigger. But due to the easy availability, too many people have easy access to that deadly trigger! People who have mental issues, people who should have received psychiatric treatment instead of access to guns. The young man, Adam Lanza, who shot the children and adults took the guns of his mother, supposedly a substitute teacher of Sandy Hook Elementary (that fact hasn’t been ascertained), who had legally purchased the guns. She was a collector, you see. She paid the price of her hobby with her life and a score of children paid for it too. The children had just seen six or seven summers before their life was brutally ended.

I am shocked, angry, scared. As I made dinner for the children, wrapped them in my arms, kissed them goodnight last night, my heart cried for those parents in Connecticut who waved their final goodbyes to their little children on that fateful morning. Death can come anytime, I understand, but the sad thing is mindless deaths such as these can be prevented. I firmly believe, gun control measures are a solution to gun related crimes in this country. Are our elected officials going to take the right step this time, do you think? At the cost of angering major votebanks, will they bring in ban on assault weapons? Will they rise above politics and vote counts to protect and preserve life, which, by the way, is part of their job description? We need stringent gun control measures. Oh wait! Have I said that already? Pardon me for repeating myself, I am a little flustered right now. I feel if I harp on one point it will finally happen. Naive me!

Some fourth graders were rushed to a store-room closet by their teacher, while Lanza was carrying on his bloody carnage, and since there were papers and crayons available, the teacher set the youngsters to draw pictures while they waited for the police. I would love to see their artwork, what did the terrified little souls create that morning? Some six-year olds were confined in their classrooms by their teacher who explained to them that there was a bad man outside, and they will wait for the good men to come and rescue them. The teacher went to the children who were crying and told them to smile, they will be ok. The children said they wanted to do Christmas, they wanted to go their mommies.

Children die unnecessarily every day, all over the world. I read about their deaths and shudder. Bad, evil people hurt little children, I get more vigilant about keeping mine safe. Sean comes back from different refugee camps and share stories of suffering that tv channels and news papers do not tell us. We grieve for the suffering as a family, we look around and see the splendor surrounding us and hope people don’t forget to remember the people who are hurting all over the world. We try in our little, tiny, inadequate way to make some contribution towards healing a few. And then, we look at the bright, beautiful faces of our two children. We feel blessed to be able to live in a part of the world where we do not have to constantly worry about keeping them safe. Incidents like these shatter our delusion of safety. Safe, our children, are not. And safe, they will not be till guns can’t be bought easily as part of our constitutional right!

How do we explain to our children these shoot outs in a place they consider the safest next to their homes – their schools? How do we tell them, we now worry about their safely when they are at school? We worry that any madman (woman) at any time can use them as target practice when s/he feels the world deserves retribution.

I am stunned, I can’t seem to get over this incident. This one hit home and this one hit hard. I look at the snippets of news where they show the parents crying and think that could be me, any day. This incident will fade away in news channels as America gears up for Christmas, I will laugh, joke and make merry with friends and family, exchange gifts and sing Christmas carols. Life will go on, I know. But I also know, Christmas lights are twinkling less brightly for me right now as I struggle to make sense of it all. For once, I am desperately looking for positivism and I can’t find any. Then I hear about the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary. Amidst all this evil and carnage and anger and despondence, I bow to the teachers of that elementary school. Some threw themselves in front of the bullets so the children could get away. Some herded the children to safety and hunkered down till they all got rescued. Teachers, you are my heroes. You reinstate the faith in me when all seems lost and the evil gets so powerful that I struggle to breathe. Your actions bring in the fresh air. Goodness is not lost, can not be lost.

Finally, to the little ones who got the most precious gift of all – a second chance at life. Preserve it well darlings. Make something of it. Grow up big and strong, right the wrongs, spread the love, carry the fire, spread the warmth so that the likes of Adam Lanza get the help that they need and don’t ever feel the need to pick up guns to seek retribution.

Let us pray – for PEACE! And an end to easy accessibility of guns. Its time, its time!!!!