The woman had been in a checkout line with her son at the King Soopers supermarket when the first shots rang out.
Now, hours later, she was trying to make sense of a massacre that left 10 people dead in her hometown.
"I’m really surprised that it even happened here," she told The New York Times. "This isn’t how Boulder is, you know. This isn’t what happens here."
One can understand her bewilderment. Most of us would feel the same way. Who expects something like that to happen in their own community? We know our neighborhood, we know our neighbors. And yet it does happen, with depressing regularity, in so many places that so many people call "here."
Implicitly, we know this. As we watch these horrors and their aftermath unfold on television, we can see the similarities to our own lives.
But afterward, we don’t act like we expect a mass shooting to occur in our community. We still send our kids to the local school, we still shop at stores, we still dance at the local club, we still attend live concerts and fairs, we still go to the movies, we still worship in churches and synagogues and temples — and all of these have been places that have witnessed horrible mass shootings.
When the incident is particularly heinous and hits home particularly strongly in our own lives — like the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. and Parkland, Florida — we do worry and we carry that worry with us for a while, but eventually we settle back into our routines as our concerns fade, or as we learn to better manage them.
Until the next massacre.
COVID-19 interrupted that rhythm with its stillness. Like a defibrillator, Atlanta and Boulder jolted us back.
The fact that we don’t stop living our lives is healthy. Dwelling on the possibility of getting caught in a mass shooting when the incidence of that is so rare makes no sense.
But while saying that mass shootings are vanishingly infrequent may comfort us, it does nothing to alleviate the trauma of those victimized by one. Boulder is just the latest community to learn that. But it is a lesson that has yet to take with some of our elected leaders who could do something to relieve the anguish and soothe the fears, however infrequent the calamities.
It is true that there are sudden tragedies that take more lives. Like deadly car crashes, which also are often caused by the actions of others. And while we haven’t stopped driving, society has taken a lot of steps to help us avoid being killed by cars — from stop signs and red and green lights to crosswalks and school crossing guards, from police patrols and radar devices and enforcement to public education campaigns and ignition interlock devices.
But society hasn’t taken the same persistent steps when it comes to shootings. It’s not like the contours of the issue are unknown. It’s people with emotional problems or mental illness, plus the easy availability of guns, plus the belief that one way to resolve those problems is to use those guns — whether to kill others or to kill ourselves (suicides being more than 60% of gun deaths).
We go on with our lives because it’s the only way to keep our sanity. But that gets harder to do when some of our leaders go on with their lives without doing the things that would protect us from this scourge.
So it will keep coming, to all sorts of places all sorts of people call "here."
And people like the woman in Boulder will keep wondering why.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.