Note from Rabbi Weber: Dana Starfield (Chodos), who grew up at Temple Rodeph Torah, was at the security checkpoint in the same terminal at LAX when the gunman killed the TSA agent and injured others. Her thoughts are worth reading and taking to heart.
GUARDIANS OF THE BOOM
Dana Starfield, November 2013
It was 9am on Friday and I’d just reached the TSA checkpoint at the top of the escalator when I congratulated myself for being on time for the first time in my life. For the first time I had time to look around, admire the art installation in the terminal. Was it new? Why hadn’t I noticed it before? Scores of sculpted papers gracefully suspended in air appeared to be a flock of doves ushering travelers off, inviting us to join them in flight.
And then the BOOM happened. Not a pop, not a crack. A BOOM. Did a bus crash into the terminal? Did a bomb go off down the escalator? In milliseconds these thoughts raced through my mind, and I hadn’t had a chance to look behind me when
BOOM. A TSA agent screamed to get down on the ground. Someone screamed “gun!”
But this was not just a “gun,” as an A-bomb isn’t just a “chemical compound.”
Let’s call assault weapons what they are: Weapons of War. Weapons of Terror.
BOOM. We crawled our way over abandoned luggage, carts, and each other through the security gate. In contrast to the BOOM, the mayhem was not a shout, but a silent scream, broken only by shouts of GO GO GO! from heroic TSA agents, who herded us toward safety while they remained, exposed and unarmed.
BOOM. Crawling, running, crawling, running. I took a spill, lost my glasses. My husband picked me up and held my hand as he led us through the crowds who arrived as doves and were now reduced to crawlers. Except for those in wheelchairs and strollers, those not fortunate enough to crawl.
Virgin America employees bravely shuffled a handful of us into a supply room. My husband and two other men pushed a copy machine in front of the door to barricade us. We whispered our location to loved ones. Just in case. Of what, we weren’t sure.
BOOM. We shut the lights, turned off ringers. Agreed to silence. Agreed not to open the door for anyone without first identifying them. My mother called incessantly and my heart broke with every ring, unable to pick up. My brother texted asking what’s happening. I told him I love him. To tell the rest of my family I love them. And to comfort mom. I texted a friend asking her to care for our beloved dogs. I had listed her the day before on a dogsitting form as their guardian in the event of my husband’s or my incapacitation. Just the day earlier we joked that she might be stuck with my crazy eyed mutt. She assumed my text that morning was a joke, too. I typed out the only words my shaking hands could muster in response: Serious. Terror. Please take care of them.
The others in the room, once doves, then crawlers and now family, quietly whispered amongst themselves. Did you say your goodbyes? Do you want to come out to your family? It was the plane scene in Almost Famous where secrets are revealed, final plans made. Then silence. Then BOOM.
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Louder. Closer. A scream. A knock. The SWAT team arrived and instructed us to exit, hands in the air. As we ran, a game of telephone ensued. Did they catch “the guy?” Was it a guy? Was it a team of guys? We ran, hands in the air, life in God’s and one man’s hands.
We arrived at the newly renovated Tom Bradley International, now a ghost town.
Where did the SWAT team go? Was the LAPD with “the guy?” Were they on their way? Or did more terror await in dark corners?
The events of the Boston Marathon bombings raced through my mind. Was the shooting just a device to herd us toward another, worse fate? 911, why weren’t you picking up? There we stood, in one of the busiest terminals in the world, all alone. I called my college roommate, a reporter for CBS NY. I asked her to tell the world what I tried to tell 911: send help.
When help finally arrived, the officer with whom I spoke was calm, composed, compassionate. He looked just like Breaking Bad’s Hank Schrader. Hank, America’s “good guy,” was alive in this officer. We were alive. We had not yet learned who or how many were less fortunate. Due to quick wits and bravery, we can thank our lucky stars that there was plenty of unspent ammo in those oversized magazines.
We can be thankful, but we should mostly be angry. Angry for the agent who lost his life protecting our freedom to fly. Angry for those harmed by a machine designed for war carried by a man unfit to be trusted with it.
The luckiest day of my life was a little bit Almost Famous, a little bit Rambo, a little bit Breaking Bad, but mostly it was Groundhog Day. We Americans are cursed to live the same day over and over again until we start getting ANGRY. Until Congress has the spine to stand up for American Freedom and not just the NRA.
Let’s call these members of Congress who refuse to fix background checks and support an assault weapons ban what they truly are: aiders and abettors of Terrorism. Protectors of the BOOM that rocks the lives of too many too often.
The 2nd amendment no more guarantees an individual’s right to assault rifles and oversized clips than it does my right to keep chemical weapons in my backyard. There is one purpose for both of those WMD’s and it’s not to defend oneself. Not self protection, not sport, not patriotism. Pure, unchecked, Congress-approved Terror.
Why is it that foreign perpetrators of terror are met with war, but domestic terror is met with crickets? Is it because the perpetrators of domestic terror are so often white males? If they were darker, would Congress respond? If they prayed to a God of a different name, would Congress put their foot down? From the closet of silence and goodbyes, the terror had no color. It had no God. All it had was a BOOM. And the BOOM is all the same, no matter who makes the noise.
Congress: from the Hill on which you sit, can you hear the BOOM? When did you decide to protect mass murder and call it freedom? Do you stand with those with whom I stood Friday, with our right to life, to liberty, to freedom? Or will you continue to perpetuate the reign of terror that infringes upon those rights in our schools, our airports, our theaters, our malls?
You’ll tell us it won’t make any difference. That current background checks are “good enough.” That those set on destruction will destroy no matter what.
What then, Congress, is the point of laws at all, if they’re inevitably broken? And what is the point of lawmakers who refuse to make laws? Shall we legalize meth, as those who want to get their hands on it inevitably will? Shall we legalize drunk driving because “everybody’s doing it?”
Why is it that if I move to Denver, I can easily and legally purchase an AR-15, but the pit bulls I rescue from South LA (who are then often trained as service dogs or as children’s reading ambassadors) are deemed too vicious to keep at home, a danger to society? Why are there laws in this country protecting us from would-be service animals and not weapons of war?
I write this from the air, because today I fly. On the in-flight entertainment, we’re informed there’s a shooter at the mall in my home state of New Jersey. I send my prayers to those hiding in closets. And I refuse to let guns rule my life. I wish the same could be said about those in Congress who let special interests rule theirs.
November 1, 2013 was the luckiest and most terrifying day of my life. Is it too soon to start talking about these weapons of war and the Members of Congress, the guardians of the BOOM, who have supported the reign of domestic terror Americans repeatedly endure? Absolutely not. Because if it is, then we let the terrorists win.