In Solidarity With Parkland, Florida

Like a lot of Americans, I have been paying close attention to the kids who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It’s very unlikely that I will ever experience anything like what those kids have gone through. But when I watch their faces as they stand up and speak truth to the legislators who hold the power and responsibility for seeing that our schools are safe, and contemplate the need for society to do something to protect them, I see something in their postures and in their eyes that is vaguely familiar. Of course there is great emotion in what they are saying. They are courageous but, if you look closer, you can see a tiny shift in their eyes, an involuntary tilt of their heads, a little change in their balance, as if they are listening to the sound of a faint audible bell sounding in their heads.  

Though it is barely comparable, I have had a glimpse of that look. Six weeks ago I returned home from a short, few hour trip into Rapid City. We live in a remote area at the end of miles of gravel roads and at the dead end of a two-mile-long driveway. We go weeks without seeing a car. When I came home that day, I expected to see my dog, Shiner, tearing around the corner of the horse barn to greet me. He’s usually excited to go inside with me but, that day I saw no sign of him. It was cold and getting dark so I figured he’d weaseled his way into Erney’s cabin, who is our old friend and dog caretaker. I really didn’t think much about it, just parked the car and walked past the horse barn to Erney’s to collect him. When I asked Erney, he just shrugged. “Haven’t seen him. Haven’t seen anything, all day.”

English Setter

We agreed that he was probably somewhere in the trees, exercising the rabbits. We talked for a few minutes and I made my way back to the house. By now it was almost dark and the light had become eerie. When I got to the house I found the front door wide open. I wasn’t sure what to think. I could only believe that I had inadvertently left the door open when I’d left a few hours before. I stepped in and flipped on the light that illuminated the broken glass of picture frames that were scattered across the floor. I heard Shiner coming from the back bedroom. I initially went for the easy explanation: I left the door open, Shiner found it, came inside, and had a dog party in our house. But Shiner is not that kind of dog, he is not a Rottweiler or Doberman Pincher, he is a small, gentle, white English Setter, with a black patch around one eye. By then he was standing in the hallway, looking ashamed and as bewildered as I felt. A few more feet in and I noticed that the computer I’d been on just a few hours before was gone. Drawers were gaped open and I walked to one of the open drawers and saw that my Colt revolver was gone. My walk down the hall showed more open drawers and missing electronics.

I had called Colton and went to the window when I heard him pull up to the shop (which he was going to check out when he arrived), and I stared out in disbelief, the ranch pick-up truck was gone. We had been robbed. Our wall of security had been breached. Our little Camelot had been violated. What had Shiner seen? His tail wagged in slow confusion. Thump, thump, thump against the wall. 

In twenty years we had never locked a door, never taken the keys out of the ranch trucks. When Jill and Jilian showed up they stood staring at the damage gasping, that is when I first saw the troubled look that I’ve been seeing on the faces of kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School. That faint bell was sounding, inside Jill and Jilian’s heads. It was fear, a loss of innocence, a recalculation of the order of our lives. Who did this? Meth heads? Crazies? Would they come back? It’s a bell that could never be un-rung.

We’d lost the pickup, the computer, stereo speakers, my kindle, cell phone, some jewelry, and the old Colt revolver that I had kept near me for forty years. Our family photos could be reframed and our photographed faces would again smile out into the room, but those faces would never be the same – they had now been changed.  

It was clear that the greatest loss was something that could not be calculated. From the material realm, the insurance did not cover the pickup and after the deductible and depreciation values, the check was incredibly small. There was enough to cover all new door locks and a now needed security system, what was left over I reserved to buy a new pistol. Because I didn’t know what else to do, I walked over to the cabinet where the old Colt had always been, and put it in the drawer. It was a hollow gesture.

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  • You would think, as far out as you live, you would never expect a thief to “drop in.” It took effort, and total lack of respect. What makes people do that?

    Once after a burglar broke in, tossed my house, and took the telly, good jewelry (leaving the costume jewelry), a victims’ advocate called a couple days later to see how I was doing, and to advise me to be watchful and careful. I replied, “Thank you for your advice, but these people were IN MY (locked) HOUSE. How will I ever really feel safe again?”

    Had similar feeling following the Columbine shooting, when our entire Denver community was faced with someone killing our children. Who is safe, if not our children in school? Who is safe, if peace loving Amish kids are slaughtered in their school house? You know there has been a change when your ten year old grandtwins laugh about how ridiculous their teacher is to carry a baseball bat when they’re doing lock down practice?

    Life in these United States has indeed changed…or, perhaps, our awareness has been heightened.
    Be safe out there…glad your pup was uninjured.

  • I just found this today, and of course am shocked, horrified, infuriated and— and armed. But so were you. I hate knowing this, and of course that’s one of the reasons you wrote it: because we can’t just take our lives for granted because we are smart and alert and armed and live clear out here. And as much as we hate it, we need to be reminded of that. But now what? I don’t want to start distrusting my fellow humans, as some of the commenters above said they will do. I’m horrified at the responses in which people told you all about the problems they have had, and yet have to acknowledge that part of the experience has to be knowing that someone else has felt the same way. That’s why we write— to put on paper the kinds of feelings many people have. And readers read to discover how beautifully we express their own fears and hopes and dreams. Call or email if you want to talk about this. I hope you are writing about it. Suddenly the landscape does not seem nearly so beautiful as it did this morning.

    Linda M. Hasselstrom
  • Feeling solidarity with crime victims does not in any way negate one’s right to self-defense, and way out here when seconds count, help is not just minutes away…sometimes HOURS! I would not want to be home alone and unarmed if something like that happened, although most thieves around here wish to avoid violence,(mostly because this is a right to carry state) and take advantage of the owner’s absence.

    Sorry for your material losses, but at least you and your family are unharmed.

  • I’m sorry you have had to go through this, it’s hard to lose one’s trust in our fellow man. I don’t live down a long road but much closer to a town. The person that came onto my property deprived me of my best friend. Sweetie had been a big part of my life for 8 years and like Shiner I keep expecting to hear her walk across the hardwood floors. A stranger came onto my property, shot my dog, and then took her, leaving me with nothing but blood in the snow. How do I ever feel safe here again, how do I regain my trust in others?

  • My sympathies are extended to you for the shocking robbery. It is always disconcerting to have strangers intruding into our home, touching our precious keepsakes, violating our sense of safety, carrying off the phones and tvs and computers and often very precious objects of little financial value but great personal significance.

    I have lived and traveled in Alaska, a land where the subsistence lifestyle is practiced in deadly earnest, in remote villages accessible only by plane or barge and there is as much crime there as I encountered in San Francisco. As a young adult I learned never to bother putting in a light bulb on the front porch in my apartment in the area around the SF Medical Center – it would disappear during the first night.

    Decades later I learned to live with the theft of potted plants from my garden in the Sierra foothills, knowing the thief would someday discover I had written “Stolen from the garden of…..” on the bottom of the pot in permanent form.

    Crime against us as property owners feels ghastly. But real, terrible tragedy like the waste of a precious life is strangely numbing. The enormity is too large to grasp, the anger too exhausting, the sheer sense of loss so heavy…. it is a bridge over which many of us will not be asked to pass.

    As a teacher I have wondered why I know of so many deaths of children from guns. Not a simultaneous mass of them as in Florida, but individual deaths, each inexplicable, each a tragedy, some as accidents, some as suicides, some with an unknowable cause and all of them leaving a fractured family, a completely changed home, a group of people left feeling not just the loss but THE loss, the most horrible loss a human can feel – the loss of one who is still so loved and so missed.

    I cannot ever understand why those sad things happen but I have decided to see the emotions felt inside as God’s voice calling me to action, to take up our human true calling and to be the miracle workers we must be to turn the bad that happens to us into something good.

    By seeing bad events as an invitation to the miracle, our reactions can be realigned to a balance, to the possibility of a transformation of grief into a sense of purpose.

    And the greatest part is the way everytime we perform even the smallest part of the miracle, even the very smallest piece, that part stays done. That part is the eternal that we can believe we are leaving behind.

    All bad events leave God’s voice – God’s invitation to each of us, in our own unique ability to hear, to transform what seems endless pain into endless hope.

    Let the beauty of your home, the strength of your stewardship, the love of family and friends bring back the joy you deserve.

    Mrs. Baker
  • Jeff – Ernie is hard of hearing and always has his TV on very loud. You can also not see the house form his cabin.

    jill / Wild Idea Buffalo Co.
  • Sorry that happened to you and I hope the authorities catch all who are involved. That being said, and not to be a horses behind, but where was Erney? If his place is a short walk from yours, and it’s as remote as you indicate, your quote that he hadn’t seen Shiner or “anything all day” somehow makes me feel differently about the situation. How does something like that happen without his knowledge? Just a question and not an accusation.

  • I read this disturbing account of your break-in a few days ago and it has haunted me since then. Today, I was considering your speculation - Meth Heads? - and I was moved to act. I’ve just made a donation to an organization fighting meth addiction in South Dakota. MAMA — Mothers Against Meth Alliance is a grassroots organization run by Julee Richards, whose daughter fell victim to meth. Despite threats and harassment, she fights to raise awareness and stop the meth dealing.

  • I am terribly sorry for your loss. Having had a similar experience, I know what it is to lose that feeling of safety. I only hope that you and your family will keep your selves happy and safe, but sadly wiser. Don’t lose your faith in your fellow man completely because of this. That, too, would be horribly tragic.

    And thank you for your understanding for the Parkland survivors. They need it badly.

    Anjanette Kalb
  • So sorry about the violent invasion and loss of possessions; at least they didn’t shoot your dog with your gun – curious to me: I have never seen so much response to any other of your posts (I read all that you write). Troubling, though, is no one is worried about your old gun being used by these intruders – might it now be used to kill someone? someone else’s dog? or one of their own family members? Please – lock your new gun away, and don’t let anyone know where it is…peace to you and your family.

    Pat Wood
  • I agree about the act of writing. Writing heals a person’s wounds and pain in many of the same ways that prayer does. Writing helps you make art out of pain and prayer lets you offer it up as a gift to that higher power I choose to call God, where Justice Will Be Done. It’s not all up to us. We just have to not rob the guy back.

    Norma J Skjold
  • A dear family friend, Putt Weatherbee, had a similar experience on his pecan farm in Albany GA last year; however, he was home. A group of four pr five shot him five times and left Putt for dead. He lived and is paralyzed from the waist down but is doing very well. His wife and daughters were devastated. They wanted his guns apparently which were shotguns used for bird hunting. I heard it may have been a gang initiation ritual – in Albany, GA.

    David Hicks
  • May the act of writing ease the pain.

    Lee Myers
  • Thankfully no one was hurt, especially Shiner. It’s terrible how someone can do such a thing and change the lives of so many people! Forever!! your life has changed and can never go back to the way it was!! The kinds at Parkland will never forget this tragedy and neither will your family for the violation some anonymous person did by invading your home. We live in a quiet neighborhood, no worries until some stranger made himself too comfortable around our homes, now neighbors and I feel unsafe! I asked my husband to set up our alarm system. You just never know what intent someone has against you? God Bless you, keep you and family safe.

  • So very sorry to hear this. BUT, thank God Shiner is okay. I can’t even imagine what you were feeling when you walked into your home. Bless you and your fur-baby Shiner!!

    Valerie Shaw

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