Two of my close friends have relatives who were at the Highland Park 4th of July parade, an event they left spattered with blood. Both families were on multi-generational outings and, at the moment the shooting started, were separated from their adolescent kids. They were off doing something “normal,” like getting ice cream or a Starbucks. One woman was thrust into the Starbucks bathroom and locked in until the police came and let them out, directing them to somewhere safe.
I write those words and think, “somewhere safe”? What does that mean anymore? In that moment, it was where someone wasn’t shooting to kill as many people as possible, where there were police nearby to offer their protection.
The other night, I was driven home from the airport (more about where I was and why another time) by a man who escaped from South Sudan as a youth. Two of his brothers were not so lucky and died in the conflict there. “In my country,” he said, “the animals and the birds would tell you from which direction the violence was coming.” He made a sweeping gesture with his arm as we drove through the dark streets of South Minneapolis. “All the lions and tigers and elephants would run in the same direction,” he went on, “so we knew we had to run that way too. In this country, you don’t know where it’s going to come from. You can’t prepare for it, you can’t run away.”
He, his wife and their three kids moved to Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago, from a smaller city in Minnesota. “I have more opportunity here,” he said, but, so far, that opportunity hasn’t included finding an apartment they can afford. They’re living in a hotel. He has a day job and drives all night.
“This country is heaven on earth,” he went on, “but people don’t know it. You put them into my country for one hour and they would be different, they would stop doing this stupid violence. But I don’t think they are going to. I told my wife the other day that I think in a couple of years we should move to Kenya. You learn to feel what’s coming and I think there’s still a couple of years before it’s time to go.”
I felt like I was riding with a dark prophesying angel. And, from my own inner sense of history, I felt the chilling accuracy of his prediction.
I debated with myself about the purpose of writing about him. Things are bleak enough without my adding to them. But something about the events of this July 4th compelled me to do so. I share his feelings and his sense of what’s coming, as I’m sure many of you do too. The question is, What can we do? Is it too late to stop the worst from happening?
But the worst has already happened to seven people attending an Independence Day parade, and something close to the worst to all those there whose lives will never be the same. So maybe that’s not the right question. Maybe if I can find the right question, or change the angle of my observation, that could lead to some answers. I don’t like this feeling of witnessing history steamrolling its way toward me.