America, Living in This World

Keep taking risks

Yesterday I saw a boy climbing a tree in the neighboring yard behind MPC’s Youth Center. He settled against the slender trunk of what is no more than a sapling, and he began to stare at Teddy and me.

He was holding a gun.

He held it up and pointed at something, not us, but to say it was disconcerting is an understatement.

He looked about 12. I reminded myself that I am an adult, that not everyone grows up in the kind of gun-free household that has been my experience, even that there has been a hawk in the neighborhood.

Teddy stood holding a ball in his mouth, staring back at the boy, silent and still.

“What are you planning to shoot at?” I asked.


“What are you planning to shoot at?”

“I’m not planning to shoot anyone.”

(Please note the rhetorical shift.)

“What kind of gun is that?”

“It’s an ‘airsoft.’ It’s harmless.”

Approximate representation

He continued to watch us, and to adjust his “harmless” weapon, while I Googled “airsoft” and tried to remember what an air gun can do.

This one was shaped like an automatic weapon.

He climbed down about the same time Kathryn arrived to meet us, and a few minutes later he returned to the backyard with his mom. He climbed back up; she passed something to him.

This one was the size and shape of a handgun.

As I said, I first thought the boy might be watching for the neighborhood hawk. I tried to take a picture of it last week, perched on the branch of a tree in the side yard of the Youth Center. When we walked Teddy in the afternoon earlier this week, the same hawk flew out of a tree close to our heads, carrying a squirrel off across the street, still hanging low as it flew over the church parking lot and beyond.

The next months and years will be full of such moments writ large, I think. The people in positions of power will sit in their trees, displaying their own threatening weapons: legislation, social influence, private funding, and an amoral lack of care for those deemed less than. And the very few who are most clever at finding an advantage for themselves will fly off like the hawk.

The rest of us will, I hope, react to stimuli, pull back and evaluate, determine actual danger, then figure out how to respond and resist. It may be tempting for those who can pass as part of the power structure to go about their business, to smile and pretend no actual bad things are happening.

Do not give in to the urge. Keep asking questions. Keep seeking answers. Keep taking risks.

3 thoughts on “Keep taking risks”

  1. Thank you for your important words. Couldn’t help but think what would have happened to this boy if he had been black.

    1. Well, certainly no different response from me, but I did consider the way police officers might respond if I called in about a perceived threat and the boy had been black.

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