The other side of safety

It was a cold March day when I learned I’d almost lost a friend overnight.

I was standing next to my toaster, back to the TV, waiting impatiently for my bagel when I heard his voice. He was talking about being at a party when above the loud music shots rang out and he jumped into a closet to keep himself safe.

I’d heard about the off-campus shooting at my alma mater, Bradley University, but I truthfully did not give it much thought. It was at a party off campus, and I was not the party kind, so I didn’t think I would know anyone involved. I was wrong.

I grabbed my bagel and turned around just in time to see the face of my friend as he told the news anchor about what happened. One minute everything was fine and the next someone fired shots, killing two people. There was no known motive, no real reason.

About a month ago, another horrific news release swept my hometown of Peoria: the school district where I went to high school, and my little sister still attends, had been sued for not looking into claims a teacher was acting sexually suggestive toward a student. The student says she told school officials but nothing was done.

Last week, two professors from Bradley University were reported missing. An investigation into their home proved an “act of violence” had occurred. Their son and another man have been arrested for their murder after their bodies were found in a river bank five miles from their home.

I lived in this town for over 20 years and always felt safe. I’d walked my dog at night, I’d walked to my car alone in the dark and even started baby-sitting before I was old enough to drive a car in the case of an emergency because I lived in the ignorance that I was always on the other side of safety. That I was always going to be OK.

For the most part, I was right. I was never at a party where people were shot, I have not experienced sexual misconduct by a teacher and I did not know either of those professors, but I could have. I was just across the line, staring all of those things in the eye.

Over the weekend, 11 people were murdered at a synagogue in Pittsburg. They’d lived their lives thinking they were on the side of safety, that they’d lived through the worst of it and all would be OK.

Now their families have to figure out how to go on and how to find the grace in the situation.

A phrase I live by is, “grace makes beauty out of ugly things.” Sometimes it feels nearly impossible to find the grace, but it’s there.

On Tuesday, we, as citizens, have a lot of big decisions to make. We have to look across the line and see those who are not safe and remember those who weren’t kept safe. We have to acknowledge that the power is in our hands and that voting is not just about what is best for you or me. It’s about what’s best for all of us.

If you look back through my story, there are at least 15 people who cannot vote on Tuesday and for them, we must. We consistently live in the ignorance that things won’t happen to us and when they do we feel powerless and shell-shocked.

I vote because it is my civic duty to make the world a better place in honor of those who no longer have that opportunity.

For victims of random acts of violence, for victims of sexual harassment, for victims of domestic violence, for victims of racially fueled anger, I vote. For those who cannot vote, I vote.

We are living in some very, very ugly times. But no matter what comes of the election, the way we can make grace is by supporting each other and showing love no matter what side of the line we’re on: left, right, conservative, liberal, safe or not.