Goodbye Hadiya: An Ode to the Lights in our Lives

Your daughter dreams big.  Why shouldn’t she?  She looks at the future as a wide open sea of possibility, a canvas to be filled with color or left full of open spaces as she sees fit.  She trusts that the future will come and take whatever shape she gives it, so she can live in the present where she belongs—with her friends, their jokes, their music and clothes.  The wonderful things they do together.

Special things happen to your daughter, they make her heart race with excitement, yours swell with pride.  You try not to gush—not to our friends or neighbors, not to the woman behind you at the checkout whose name you can’t remember but whose kids are the same age yours are—but sometimes you can’t help it.  Because, as much as your girl lives in the present, you see her in the full circle of her days: the infant you held, the toddler you chased, even the striking, accomplished woman you know she’ll be.

Sometimes, when you watch her with her friends, or listen to her as she tells you about her day, you find your eyes welling up because it’s going so fast, so magically, beautifully, painfully fast.  You don’t know how it will all turn out, but what an exciting ride—wonders around every corner.

But then, a phone call comes, the phone call you’d never expect, bearing impossible news.  Your girl has been shot.  Yes that’s right.  Your beauty, your sunshine, your light.

And hours later she’s gone.

As she huddled with her friends under a canopy to escape a downpour, you’re told, a man with a gun came running out of nowhere, fired on the group, then jumped into a car and was sped from the scene.  “I’ve been shot,” your daughter said to a friend, who tried to catch her as she fell.  Those were among her last words.

You get the phone call soon after.  You don’t think about statistics; you don’t consider which factors increase or decrease gun violence; you don’t blame the NRA or some negligent mental health professional.  Instead, you stand there in horror as your heart breaks in two.

Hadiya Pendledon, aged 15. Majorette, Volleyball player, Honor Student, Daughter.

So … no—it wasn’t your daughter, or mine for that matter.  The fifteen year old murder victim was Hadiya Pendleton, a majorette at the exclusive King College Prep, who had just performed in Washington DC at the presidential inauguration.  She was an honors student and volleyball player who thought of becoming a lawyer, a pharmacist, or possibly going into politics.  Dimples framed her warm, bright smile; her pretty brown eyes glowed optimism.  On NPR, I heard her father say these words: “They took the light from my life.”  I don’t think there is a parent in the world who can’t identify with him.

Since December 14th  in Newtown CT,  when Adam Lanza took twenty-six lights from the lives of their loved ones, about 1,500 people have been killed in gun violence.

It seems so senseless and it is.  The piece I have the hardest time making sense of, is the argument that arming more private citizens would prevent this sort of attack.  We can look at each crime, take apart the pieces and assess: was the perpetrator insane? (was he in therapy and can we then blame his therapist?) did he acquire the weapon/weapons legally (or did he swipe it from his mother who had acquired all her guns through legal means), but nothing will change the fact that these gunmen were, are murderers.  Murderers who—regardless of their clinical mental state—had no business wielding firearms of any sort.  Any law that makes it harder for a murderer to commit murder with a gun is all right by me.  Even if it means that I will have to work much harder to get a gun myself, should I want to protect my children from an intruder—or four or five intruders—as fantasized by Gayle Trotter.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) advocates arming educators to prevent such violence.  “I wish to God [Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung] had an M-4 in her office locked up so when she heard gunfire she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands.”   I understand that sentiment; I am sure if I’d been there, I would have wished for this to happen.  But realistically, how good is the average private citizen’s aim—even with “extensive firearm training?  All I know is that police officers (and last I checked, the police receive pretty rigorous training) fire their weapons accurately in time of crisis only 34% of the time.  For private citizens, it’s less than that.

In the movie theater in Aurora, CO, would a private citizen have been able to disarm madman James Homes who opened fire?  (Keep in mind, Homes was wearing protective gear, began shooting in a noisy, darkened theater, after releasing a canister of gas.).  Would the hypothetical armed teacher in Newtown have gotten Lanza (who also wore a bullet proof vest)   on the first try?  Or would she have missed, angered him and exacerbated things. ( Just remember, Lanza had two semi-automatic handguns and an AR-15.)  Statistics generally show that gun violence tends to beget gun violence.  Even guns kept in homes for self protection are far more likely to kill the gun owner or a family member, to go off accidentally or to be used by domestic abusers than in self defense.

Though Hadiya Pendleton’s immediate neighborhood was safe, with little gun violence, she lived in a city which, despite having tough gun laws, is virtually overrun by them.   Chicago’s gun violence has been climbing even while New York’s has fallen.  Hadiya was the 40th person killed by a gun in Chicago this year  Is it that the restrictions are too tough and therefore prevent civilian would-be-stoppers of violent criminals?  Or, is it that there are already so many guns in circulation (many attained outside the city) that anyone inclined to violence can get one without much effort, no matter the laws in place?  I imagine it’s not difficult for law abiding private citizens to get their hands on guns in these circumstances either, though I just can’t see how any armed bystander might have been fast enough to save Hadiya.

In any case, I join the rest of the country in mourning for her, just as I have for the children and adults slain in Newtown and all those lives lost between.

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