“This is America, where a makeshift memorial pops up yet again to mark the violence that stalks us all.” A botanic meditation on America’s troubling love affair with guns…
by: Carol E. Anderson
Red Roses — a symbol of love, splendor, romance — the perfect gift for one’s beloved. The stunning blooms, fragile yet protected by piercing thorns, combine beauty with warning.
It’s one day short of Valentine’s Day on the Michigan State campus. Dreamy-eyed students stroll campus imagining the bouquets of roses laced with baby’s breath they’ll receive tomorrow. Highlights of the Super Bowl streaming on TVs in off-campus bars are suddenly interrupted: “Breaking News — active shooter at MSU.” Red, white, and blue beams of translucent horror flash across the TV. Ambulances screech by in the background. Is it a miracle I’m not visiting a client on campus today?
This is America, where we bow at the altar of guns — AK47s, handguns, rifles, revolvers, Howitzers — while we watch young lives extinguished like small saplings in a raging fire. Kids slam furniture against doors — chairs, desks, podiums — to keep the executioner at bay. They scurry for cover, lean into barricades, bury themselves in each other’s arms.
Monkshood has delicate bluish purple petals that look virtuous in their hooded clusters. But beneath their innocuous façade dwells a potent poison. They symbolize caution and treachery, a warning that peril lies ahead.
Hearts flutter, thrash, pound. Voices, muffled and tearful, cry into smartphones and whisper “I love you” to helpless, frozen parents. Classrooms become bunkers while a citizen terrorist struts through the streets in defiance. Still, politicians continue to bow down to the almighty NRA.
This is America, where panicky reporters stumble over their words and glance around on high alert. Behind the reporters, students bolt in crooked lines across busy streets, heads turning in search of predators, scanning for the exterminator who feels entitled to parade into a student union, a synagogue, a kindergarten to express the outrage he has with his life.
Police cars blockade roads. SWAT teams stand in clusters. Fire trucks rumble like Bradley tanks on a battlefield, while the assassin asserts his man-made right to slaughter other human beings…because this is America, and he can.
We learn three students are dead, five are in critical condition, and the maniac is still on the loose — a wily fox sneaking through the underbrush.
This is America, where even after surviving the threat of physical harm, these students will be forever branded with images of friends fleeing, desks piled against doors, the sound of sirens shrieking. Decades from now their PTSD may launch them into panic attacks every time they hear a car backfire or someone drop a tray of plates. They may never escape their survivor guilt, the prize they’ve claimed for staying alive.
Waxflowers are delicate and fragrant blooming plants often associated with passion and romance. But their fragile and easily damaged petals reflect the vulnerability and sadness that comes with separation, heartache and longing.
This is America, where a makeshift memorial pops up yet again to mark the violence that stalks us all. It overflows with bouquets of red roses, white wax flowers and blue monks hood wrapped in cellophane and nestled around a giant teddy bear now covered in snow.
At dusk the vigils begin. Students, parents, teachers, and community members gather in the eerie stillness around the freezing blooms. The only sound, the breath of those still living. Each person holds a single candle. The wax drips over the edge of each tiny flame. Gunshots and sirens give way to anguish that spills from hearts twisted like steel beams bent by a brutal hurricane.
It’s Valentine’s Day. All the dreamy eyes are gone.
Carol E. Anderson is a life coach and former organizational consultant whose passions are writing, women’s empowerment and travel photography. She is the founder of Rebellious Dreamers, a twenty-year strong non-profit organization that has helped women over thirty-five realize dreams they’d deferred and women of all ages come into their own. Carol holds a doctorate in spiritual studies, and master’s degrees in organizational development, and creative nonfiction. She is the author of the award-winning memoir, You Can’t Buy Love Like That: Growing Up Gay in the Sixties. Her goal at this stage is to live with a peaceful heart — a state regularly cultivated through walks in nature, meditation, and heartfelt conversation with friends. She lives with the love of her life and their sassy pup in a nature sanctuary in Ann Arbor, MI.