The way I describe my mother lately is, “She has grit.” A month in the hospital, stoically accepting surgery that would leave me howling in a corner. Followed by two weeks in rehab. It was initially agony to shift her head on the pillow. but shift it she did. Now she’s walking. She’s 86.
“We’ve got to get you out of this hellhole,” were my first words to her there. I saw my job as half goad, half cheerleader, providing encouragement and chocolate.
My wife and I were on my way to visit her Monday about 11 a.m. when we stopped by Jewel for more Lindt bars. My sister-in-law called. A mass shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park.
I thought of going straight there. Or back home. But the paper already had people on the scene, and my mother was expecting us. So we continued numbly to Arlington Heights. Their parade must have just let out. Arlington Heights Road crawled. A stray float decorated in red, white and blue. A dad pulling a red wagon containing a little girl wearing star deely bobbers. Hallmarks of American innocence, though how we could still be innocent at this point is beyond me. I’m as guilty as anybody.
The parade in my leafy suburban paradise of Northbrook, near Highland Park, was scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
“We have to go to the parade,” I told my wife. I thought of how, when a terrorist bomb goes off at an Israeli cafe, they mop away the blood, put back the scattered chairs and tables, and order coffee.
My wife disagreed. People in the neighboring town had just been killed. We can’t have a parade. She was right, of course. The shooter was still at large anyway, mooting the question. Northbrook and at least half a dozen nearby towns canceled their parades.
“No reason to tell my mom about the shooting,” I said, as we arrived.
The walk to her room is a grim gantlet. Flashes of people sprawled in chairs, watching TV. Shouts. Cries of pain. A woman taking baby steps with a walker, a wide fabric belt around her chest, a therapist behind, holding it. A hale man in his 50s sitting next to a figure curled in a bed. “You had a stroke!” he yells.
Life is so precious, anyone with even a spark left fights to keep it flickering. They’ll suffer anything. If only Americans applied their vaunted right-to-life philosophy to guns, we’d all live in a very different world. But they don’t. They don’t choose life. They choose guns.
My mom was sitting up, eating. Ribs. Corn on the cob. A festive Fourth of July lunch.
We visited until she said she was tired. We’d better go.
“I’ll call you tomorrow morning,” I said. “After I get my column written.”
“What are you writing about?” my mother asked. I paused. She’d find out anyway. We could already hear the news blaring on the TV across the hall. Might as well be from me. I told her about the mass shooting in Highland Park. Six dead (a seventh death was confirmed Tuesday). Dozens wounded. Killer on the loose.
“I’ll probably write about that,” I said.
“That sort of thing never happens in Colorado,” my mother declared, proudly, of her home for 34 years before coming here in February. My wife and I exchanged glances.
“That was a unique occurrence,” my mother replied. The King Soopers supermarket shooter. Just last year. Ten dead. She shopped at King Soopers.
We didn’t mention that. Thinking you’re immune is both part of the problem and entirely natural. That’s why the Highland Park shooting disturbed so many in ways the daily Chicago shootings don’t. People called it “unimaginable.” It both shouldn’t be, but has to be. You can’t go about your life otherwise.
Back home, the TV news was already spinning the atrocity into a thrilling tale of survival and bravery. It was disgusting. The alleged shooter had been photographed a block from my house, at one of the Trump rallies held at the corner before the 2020 election. The slaughter could have come then, or now. There, or anyplace else. We should know that by now, but obviously don’t. Or can’t. Not expecting it shows you’re not paying attention. And that you’re human.
Enough. Plenty of opportunity to reflect on this subject again and again. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Time to call my mother.
Highland Park parade shooting coverage
- The lives lost in Highland Park July 4 parade mass shooting
- Highland Park parade shooting left Cooper Roberts, 8, with severed spinal cord
- Father killed in Highland Park Fourth of July massacre died shielding his 2 ½-year-old son
- Highland Park residents grieve together, ponder the future: ‘We’re gonna be looking over our shoulders forever’
- Illinois State Police director defends decision to give suspected Highland Park killer a gun permit in 2020
- Highland Park suspect confessed to July 4 massacre, drove to Wisconsin but opted not to open fire there, prosecutors say
- Here’s where families can get help coping after a mass shooting
- Lynn Sweet: I was at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade. I saw the horror unfold.
- PHOTOS: Highland Park officials and residents react to mass shooting at Fourth of July parade