My arms chugged back and forth, back and forth on the elliptical as sweat trickled down my face. A girl in front of me on the treadmill wore knee-length grey spandex pants and a corral-colored tee. Her hair was pulled up tight with a lime green scrunchie. Her pony tail bounced up and down as she walked.
I was watching something violent on the TV, as my Nano pumped loud music into my ears like a tiny pink heart. NEEDTOBREATHE sang, “The years go by like stones under rushing water; we only know, we only know when it’s gone…”
I looked around. People were everywhere in the midst of their routines. Three black-shirted employees worked the front desk speaking to members as they came and went. A young flat-topped police officer dressed in blue stood near the desk talking to another man, lost in cheery conversation.
My brain had 30 minutes with nothing much to do and it began to wander. I went with it. I began to think about what I would do if a gunman charged in the front door and started shooting. I imagined that I’d hit the floor, lying as still as possible playing dead and trying not to draw attention to myself. I thought maybe I’d run out the front doors after the perpetrator made his way further back into the gym.
I wondered how the young red-haired cop would respond. Would he be a hero shooting the man with the gun, or might he be one of the first victims? I imagined the chaos that would ensue. I wondered how many other law enforcement people might be in the gym right at that moment with guns in their bags. I imagined that some brave souls would take on the gunman even though they were unarmed.
My mind worked through this scenario for ten minutes or so. I don’t remember when I stopped thinking about it or what thoughts followed. I do remember thinking what a sad state the world is in that I’d even entertain such a crazy imaginary story.
Unfortunately, this imaginary scenario is all too real. The first mass shooting that I can remember hearing about in my lifetime happened in my home state of Texas. A lone gunman climbed to the observation deck of the University of Texas clock tower and began to fire at the passers by below. Charles Whitman, an engineering student at the university and former U.S. Marine, killed 16 people on August 1, 1966.
I visited the campus for the first time when I was 18 years old. I remember my eyes diverting to the tower and my mind wondering what it must have been like for those who were on the campus that day.
As a college administrator, my colleagues and I spend time and training trying to prevent and preparing for the “what ifs” of this kind of event. It is the reality of living in a free country where our right to bear arms is who we are. Or perhaps it is a reality of living in a stressed out society where mental illness is rampant and we often turn a blind eye to it. Or maybe it is that we’ve not cared for our Vets in a way they deserve. It is not my meaning to take a political side on this issue. Just to say that “it is.”
I’ve included articles below on some history of the mass shootings in America.