This morning, I was at Grady Memorial Hospital for new employee orientation, since I’ll be working there all summer as an intern in the chaplaincy department. We went over HIPAA regulations, legal compliance, and safety procedures. That last presentation was made quite an impression, since it was comprised of instructions on what to do if a patient becomes belligerent, the proper procedures for diffusing violent situations, and the scary fact that last year, security confiscated over 2,000 weapons from patients and visitors entering the facility. “This place,” I thought, “is a crazy dangerous one.”
Grady isn’t especially different from any other huge public hospital serving a medically underserved and indigent population, and it certainly isn’t unique in terms of the amount of day-to-day violence that it sees. Most of life is dangerous, and often violent. But I’m a pretty sheltered girl, and I just don’t know about most of life. I live in a window-less room, and the rain falling steadily on everyone outside rarely affects my inside living.
I’m not sheltered for no reason. I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, a cozy valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where traffic is light, people are friendly, and violence is something that happened long ago or far away. Sure, the local civil war battlefields are much-respected reminders of gory bloodbaths that shape our southern identity, but these days, danger and death enter this enclave via television and internet: big city crime and international conflict show up on the third page of the Roanoke Times or buried deep in the nighttime news, coming only after local politics and important Nascar standings have been fully reported upon. My friend J once wrote about Roanoke being the last holdout in the event of the apocalypse, and I agreed. “These mountains,” I told him, “fend off much more than weather.”
Tonight, my shelter is shattered. In the midst of my Grady orientation, worrying about how I’d survive in such a dangerous place, my phone started vibrating and wouldn’t stop. Voice mails, text messages and missed calls piled up, and when I finally called my Mom to see what the hell was happening at home, I found her more upset than I’ve ever known her to be.
Someone shattered my shelter today. 32 people are dead – the largest mass murder in the history of the country – and they were killed right there in the mountains that are my home. The mountains have failed us today. They failed to protect us from the danger and the violence of the rest of the world. They failed as a refuge, as a harbor and as a haven. They failed to keep even this one place – this ONE PLACE – safe and innocent. They let the world in, they let my shelter be shattered, and I am so furious with them that I want to climb them, one by one, and tear them apart.
There is nowhere to go, and nowhere to hide.
Even the mountains crumble.