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The Toxicity of Accepted Risk and Accepted Loss

When I post a new profile picture to social media, I sometimes think: Will this be the photo shown on the local news if I'm killed in a mass shooting?

Interspersed with the actual shootings are now the anniversaries of murders throughout our country. I've spent time scrolling through the reports of names and grainy photos: of coaches who threw themselves in front of their students or of teachers who held a door closed. Sometimes I see high-resolution senior pictures provided by parents in a press release by their lawyer.

I see more often what a reporter likely grabbed in a hurry from Facebook, a more candid or cropped shot. The image is cropped to remove those who remained in the photo, those who remained alive, those who might be grieving in the next chaotic hours, the next excruciatingly long days and in the endless years in which the coverage doesn't extend but the grief lingers.

Maybe it's morbid; maybe it's taking a second to think about the lives that were just as intricate as mine and yours, those only captured in photos for our consumption because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We'll never get to know them. But I can't help to think that there's a better fate that might have aligned us in a place where I could have met that coach who instead met a bullet.

And I think about the students in Uvalde, Texas, who were the same age as my daughter. In another world, since we're in the state next door, my daughter may have traveled to meet a little girl on a soccer pitch, a little girl who now exists only in photos clutched by her family.

We're inflicting a generation of accepted risk and accepted loss, overlaying the mundane, a concept unknown to older Americans. The list of places of assumed safety has been constricted. Those are now the places where you hope for a good guy with a gun when the bad guy with the gun might just hate you for the color of your skin, the beliefs you have—or the beliefs you don't.

Three years ago, the shooting was still a state away, but only 50 miles down the road. A local news organization, El Paso Matters, spoke with a bank teller who could only now talk about that day when she crawled against the floor, shielding her 9-months-pregnant abdomen as people she had just helped that morning died around her. One of them, Jordan Anchondo, shielded her 2-month-old son and died. The teller had noticed the baby carrier brand in which Jordan held her baby when they spoke. When the teller found the same carrier in her nest of supplies at home, she couldn't bring herself to use it.

I must bring myself to look at the names, witness the destruction we inflict on each other and wonder how death can so easily be produced. There must be a reason that Jordan's son will grow up without his mother, right?

But if the reason is only so that some can build a militia that will be outpowered and outgunned by a government with deep corporate pockets, then maybe that's a fate that we might want to seek to change. It's those names, those grainy images, that I take into the voting booth with me.

We cannot resign ourselves to putting aside money to donate to GoFundMe pages for funerals and medical expenses. We should not need to curate those profile pictures— and those of our children too young to post them themselves—just in case we are those who are sacrificed when we end up at the wrong Walmart, the wrong movie theater, the wrong parade, the wrong school.