It was late Wednesday when I wrapped up my day-long research trip and returned home just before midnight. I wasn’t in the door more than five minutes when my family accosted me with the day’s news: a crime of unimaginable violence had unfolded right in our own city—along streets I drive on a daily basis—and in the space of an hour brought us as a community to a place we’d never been, never wanted to be, before.
Incredibly, only three people lost their lives in the hail of bullets showered by the roadside of an unassuming suburban neighborhood.
Though the one innocent victim—a woman taken hostage during a bank robbery gone bad—is no one I know (well, she’s become the ubiquitous “friend of a friend”), I feel violated. Though the horror didn’t happen to me, in an inexplicable way, it did.
The same crime that was perpetrated on her—and on the other two (surviving) hostages dragged from their place of employment—has happened to me. And to my neighbors. And to everyone in this city.
If you perceive the message this event is telling you, that same crime is happening to you, too.
Those of us who research family history also, by definition, align ourselves to a sense of family. We have an affinity to kinship. Whether by the nature of our DNA or the nurture of familial considerations, in our families we share a common bond.
While it is not as widely acknowledged, there is a bond one step beyond family. It is that of Community: a sense of belonging to something larger than just our own family. Community brings us that feeling of “We’re all in this together.” Community brings with it a sense of shared responsibilities—we support each other’s rights to co-exist peacefully—as well as a respect that enables us to not only work together but also value life together.
When an act so egregious in its disregard for human life is paraded out in the presence of an entire community, it is an act directed toward not just the one whose life was arbitrarily taken, but to every member of that injured community.
There are some who feel that Community is dead—that people are too isolated, too absorbed with “self” to care about any broader assembly of those neighbors with that common bond of place. But Community is not a thing of the past. It is a sense that still can revive when we acknowledge what befalls others in our vicinity as happening to us, too.
While I customarily reserve this space for daily observations about the micro-history of my own family’s stories, what our city has just gone through has knocked the words out of me. I’m sure you’ll understand—if you wonder what I’m referring to, perhaps some links will spare me from explaining the horrendous details. Our city’s newspaper has covered the event (including a photo-documentary), as has a publication in a neighboring city to the south. I’m sure other news agencies have weighed in with their own commentary. There certainly were enough of them represented at yesterday’s press conference.
What happened to those misfortunate others in our city on Wednesday has happened to all of us here, too. As we feel one family’s loss becoming our own, we revive that languishing sense of Community. Hopefully, though through tragedy, we may restore that sense of Community to its potential as an effective force for good.