A few weeks ago, I saw a fight break out between two boys. They were maybe around 13 years old and they seemed to know each other (they were both wearing the same blue shirt and tan pants that their school seemingly mandated). Truth be told, it was less of a fight and more of a one-sided beat down.
The larger of the two chased the smaller one into the street, pretty much threw him to the ground - I froze when I saw his head hit hard - and then proceeded to punch him a few times. My heart ached when I saw the small boy crying and protecting his face.
It was over fast enough and, amazingly, both boys went back to hanging out with their similarly-dressed friends. They started goofing around - as if everything I witnessed was perfectly normal - but I was still back in the previous moment... seething with rage.
I was immediately consumed by the familiar "what if that was one of my kids?" scenario:
"Seriously??", I thought. "I'm at work or wherever and you're not only touching my kid but you're actually hurting them?? Are you out of your fucking mind, you little piece of shit?!?"
See, I didn't grow up around violence. Fighting was not normal - it was an absolute last resort when the bully just. wouldn't. leave. you. alone. It was never accepted as a thing that happens, something that's part of growing up. I totally get the luxury of this vantage point and the knowledge that it's a privileged position isn't lost on me. Nonetheless, it's the reality in which I was raised and it's the reality that I foster for my kids.
So when I saw this fight, and felt my anger, it led to the latest in a series of lightbulb moments that have happened since the start of my work in gun violence prevention.
I began to think of the many, many parents I've met who have lost children to gun violence - either as a result of a mass shooting, suicide, urban violence, or horrific negligence. I logically knew I couldn't understand their experience and I'd never be insensitive enough, presumptuous enough, or ignorant enough to think otherwise.
I began to think that, despite my immersion in this subject and my deep, deep connections with people who've suffered so greatly, the thought of actually having a child killed might just be too abstract for me to really process.
I began to think about how many of my fellow gun violence prevention advocates cite the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School as their tipping point - because they thought of their own children living that nightmare - but it was never mine. Again, too inconceivable?
And then I came back to the rage over this fight that I not only felt so deeply but could practically taste. If I could feel this level of anger, of injustice, of animal-like protectiveness - over something that didn't even happen in my own family - what must it be like for those who've lived through something that, by comparison, makes a schoolyard fight look like a paper cut?
Now, to be clear, this piece is not to say "Ah, I get it now!". No. No. A thousand times, no. It's to say that this newfound glimmer of insight (a glimmer that, by the way, I feel a fair amount of guilt over not having attained up until now) makes me realize just how little I really know. That, despite how much of an empath I consider myself to be, I now feel - versus know intellectually - how impossible it is to understand the experience of a parent who lost a child at the hand of another.
And it's also to challenge myself as a photographer. What do I do with this added layer of insight? How do I use it to further amplify the stories of the family members left behind? What do we do?
What will you do?