An Airport Scare
I was in the Atlanta airport just before Thanksgiving week when rumors of an active shooter circulated, forcing all inside to evacuate. I had dropped off my luggage with the skycap in front of the terminal, something I usually don’t do, but there was no line there, so I thought it might save time. After I dropped off my bags I walked inside, making my way to the security checkpoint, stopping by the restroom on the way, because the security line snaked through many ropes and was interminably long.
I could hear some sort of commotion outside, and then someone came in the restroom in tears. When I stepped out of the restroom, the entire airport was empty, except for a few of us exiting the restroom. The security guard told us to evacuate but didn’t tell us why. Another gal said there was a rumor of an active shooter.
I walked briskly outside of the terminal, unsure of where to go. But as I stepped outside and looked to my right, a huge mob of people ran screaming outside of that entrance. I had no idea what was going on, but chose to run toward the parking deck, along with everyone else. It was the only other sheltered place.
I waited in the parking lot along with many others, with no actual knowledge of what was truly going on. My phone battery was gradually dying, and the WiFi and cellular networks were bombarded with all of us on our phones, so I was unable to connect to any outside websites for information. I used my little precious battery life to keep connected to family to let them know I was safe.
Flights were grounded, and in the end, we waited outdoors for over two hours with no word on what was going on, instructions, or information. Finally after two hours, we were told that there is no threat to us, and to keep waiting outside. When we were finally allowed back inside the terminal, the line to the security checkpoint was hundreds upon hundreds of people long. Somehow, I made it through on time to catch flight, which had been delayed.
It was a harrowing experience. It turns out there was no active shooter—a passenger had a handgun that was discovered during security check. While the TSA agent was inspecting the suitcase, the passenger leaped forward and grabbed his gun out of the suitcase, and in doing so, the gun fired. He took his gun and ran away through the airport. This event resulted in mass chaos and evacuation.
Thankfully, in this case, it turned out not to be an active shooter, but it was traumatic for many of us there. Since that incident, there was a driver who ran over some folks at a holiday parade in Waukesha, WI, a school shooting in Michigan, and there have been other shootings and sad and difficult events in the news.
It’s hard. It’s horrific. It’s heartbreaking. As I process all of these events, I was reminded recently of an important truth. Despite what it feels like or seems like, the truth is that yes, horrible things do happen (and will happen), but yet there are also so, so many good and wonderful and beautiful things. This is not to minimize the horrific events, but we are exposed constantly online to the evil and the bad, and much less to the good, leading us to a state of hopelessness and despair.
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about this. Although these events get great attention, and not to minimize the devastation of them and trauma that can result, they are mostly the exception and not the norm. I needed reminders by objective people that this is not the way it is every day—especially because my brain was processing that ordeal at the airport. When we’re constantly exposed to negativity on the news and in social media, we think that this all there is. Slipping into a state of despair and depression, we think all is hopeless and the world is in chaos.
While we don’t live in a perfect world, far from it, the facts are that the numbers and data reveal that these are the exception rather than the norm. The fact that they happen at all is distressing, but think about it. We go to the store, go to school, go to work, etc., and this is repeated millions of times a day all over the world in relative safety, for many of us. I am fully aware that this is a first world privilege—folks in war-torn countries and other places do not live this kind of peaceful life.
That was helpful for me to remember and think about when I started to feel unsafe, vulnerable, and scared about going outdoors. Would I encounter an active shooter again during my daily activities? I could see how giving into fear of going outside could paralyze me.
I did think about steps I could take to make myself more prepared next time. I realized during that incident I had no idea what to do in the event of an active shooter situation. Afterwards, I thought maybe I should take a class or have some training.
Another thing I realized was how stressful it was with a phone battery that dies so quickly. My phone battery is only a year old (that’s another story), but I ended up buying a portable charger to carry with me while traveling for peace of mind.
Though this happened, I still believe there is beauty, and there is hope. We don’t have to define ourselves by this evil. We don’t run on despair. We don’t run on fear. We run on hope. And while there are bad things, there are far, far more beautiful and hopeful things to believe in and notice. Even in the face of dire need and diversity, a burst of hope keeps us going.
Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning writes, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” What is your why? (If you haven’t read the book, by the way, written by a Holocaust survivor, I highly recommend it). In the horrific circumstances of the Holocaust, these survivors found some meaning and hope of a thread for the “why” of staying alive.
The point here is not to compare atrocities and difficulties. We all have hard journeys and unbearable pain and suffering, and hard crosses to bear. We bear witness to difficult things in our own lives and the lives of others. But that is not the end, and it doesn’t have to define us.
Maybe you’re searching for meaning and hope—and that is ok. The journey and questions are all ok. People who thought they knew all the answers often find themselves on a journey, too. Sometimes our journeys in life propel us to ask deeper questions. In the end, we enlarge, and don’t grow smaller. As we ask questions, we learn, and we grow. Embrace the doubts, the questions—and yes, even the adversity. I need this message as much as anyone else.
We can’t know what awaits us tomorrow—maybe there will be an active shooter, or a car accident, or a diagnosis, or a ruptured relationship. We know that darkness exists. Yet we also know that light exists. But even the smallest bit of light can break through the darkest place.