What better gift for a 3-year-old’s birthday than a classic Tonka dump truck? It’s strong, sturdy, and dependable; a kid feels powerful loading it up and pushing it around. It’s exactly what my little granddaughter wanted. Wearing a glittery Disney Princesses T-shirt, she celebrated her birthday at a neighborhood park with a dozen of her friends. Cupcakes and juice boxes, bagels and fruit cups kept them all hydrated and well-nourished. My husband and I left the party with the realization that it was the first time we’d attended a party for a 3-year-old where not a single kid melted down. It was a perfect beginning to a beautiful Saturday morning.
We headed directly to another birthday party, this one for our 90-year-old family friend, Mike Pahos, whose roots extend to the islands of Greece and whose presence has enriched our lives for decades. His wisdom, kindness, and generosity are near-legend in our community, as is his appreciation for nature expressed as the longtime Santa Barbara County Parks Director, and his joy in the arts, dance, and music. To celebrate his special day, a group of singers reunited and serenaded him with Greek folk songs. It was a day of counting blessings, another extraordinary celebration of the goodness of long lives, rich memories, and above all, caring for each other.
We stayed hours longer than we expected, but finally headed home, settled in, and turned on the TV. There it was: El Paso, the latest battleground in a vicious, hateful war against the residents of this country.
Once again, ordinary people living their ordinary lives, gunned down when they never thought for a moment they were prey, and they never stood a chance. It’s happened near Santa Barbara more than once: At the post office facility, at the university, and not too far away at Borderline in Thousand Oaks where vibrant, promising, unsuspecting young people were massacred while just living their lives.
This time it was at a Walmart of all places. I’d shopped at the one in Oxnard just a week ago. It was the only place in the area I could find to purchase that Tonka truck for my little granddaughter. It’s a huge store, and I walked all over the place to find that truck. It seemed the most normal thing in the world — but that was then and this is now.
Add Walmart, now, to the list of places we have to worry about being in the wrong place at the wrong time; a list that unthinkably includes elementary schools, high schools, and colleges; synagogues, churches, and mosques; nightclubs, theaters, and festivals — a seemingly ever-lengthening list where no one, no matter who they are, is safe from the rage and hatred of terrorists operating military weaponry without concern or conscience for humanity.
My 90-year-old friend never imagined America would end up this way; my little 3-year-old grandchild has no idea of the America she has been born into. She deserves to hold onto her innocence, to have the chance to live a long life and up to her full potential. We all do.
Is this time different? Every time, we hear everyone say, “Never again,” and make T-shirts that say this place Strong; that place Strong. And once again it happens. Coupled with Dayton just hours later, this time feels different. It must be different. We cannot take anymore devastating losses.
When my little granddaughter grows up and asks me about her childhood, I want to be able to tell her about her third birthday party, and how that day marked the beginning of the end of an unthinkable time when America had lost its way — and began to find its way back from the brink.