A brief interlude from my trip down memory lane….
Yes, you read the title correctly. This is a yearly awareness day we have in this country. Gun violence and the United States are synonymous. American exceptionalism. Only I don’t think this is what we envisioned with that phrase.
It was inevitable. Me, being an activist. I’m following in the great American (and French) tradition of standing up and speaking out.
I recently became a co-lead for my local Moms Demand Action group. We advocate for common sense gun laws and work to increase awareness of the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. For my readers who don’t know about us: no, we aren’t trying to steal your guns. Yes, many Moms are responsible gun owners. And no, it’s not “extreme” or “unpopular” to recognize that universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods would make a difference.
We had to work hard to convince our city to allow a display recognizing victims and survivors of gun violence for this weekend, also known as Wear Orange. In the end, our city council and mayor voted to allow us to display 100 pinwheels to represent the 100 people who die daily in the U.S. of gun violence.
Yes. One hundred. Every day. A rate 25 times that of our peer countries. A number that is growing.
With some help from my family, I set up our group’s display today. Here’s what I wrote about the experience.
One Hundred Pinwheels
For National Gun Violence Awareness Weekend, our group decided on a display: one hundred pinwheels plus a sign to explain them, placed outside the Lafayette, CO library.
The sign went in easily: its sharp metal spikes digging into the lawn, as strong as the facts it displayed: 100 American lives are lost every day due to gun violence. Firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens. Access to a gun increases the likelihood of death by suicide threefold.
Would people read the sign? Would it reach them? Penetrate the numbness so many of us have developed to the horrors of gun violence in this country?
I went to place the first pinwheel in the ground and it broke apart. So fragile. I stared at the fragmented remains: our display wasn’t going to work. We had one hundred pinwheels and we couldn’t secure them in place.
My dad retrieved the lug nut wrench from my car and used it to drive a hole into the ground, then we followed the shaft of the wrench to place the pinwheel into the newly-made hole. Each pinwheel placement was an effort, shoving a tool not meant for this job into the ground. I glanced at the bin stuffed full of pinwheels. This was going to take forever. I didn’t have time for this; I had a full day of things to do and I needed this to go smoothly.
Body weight on the wrench. Grab a pinwheel, put it in the soil. Repeat.
My kids, eight and seven years old, eyed the box.
“There are so many more,” my daughter said.
“I know. This is taking way longer than I thought it would,” I answered.
And then I realized. I realized what I’d been trying not to think about as I set up this display with my children and my father. Each one of those pinwheels represents a person. A human being. A hole dug into the earth. A life lost, placed into that hole. These pinwheels deserved more than a jab into the ground with a blunt tool and a quick, mindless placement by a mom wanting to get on with her day.
I grew more deliberate as I placed each pinwheel. Each time, thinking: this pinwheel represents a life that will be lost today. And a life that will be lost tomorrow. And then again the next day. Every pinwheel, a life lost, on repeat.
As we finished, rays of sunlight began to shine over the library and onto the display, bathing it in an ethereal early morning light. My kids ran off to play on the grass nearby, unaware of what the display they’d just helped set up really meant. I was happy for their innocence. One hundred lives, lost yesterday. And today. And tomorrow.
We must change. We must do better.