This is the kind of country we have become — a nation of checkpoints.
You walk into a hospital maternity wing holding a bouquet of birds of paradise and a balloon that boasts “Baby Girl,” a grandmother wearing a smile so wide everyone who passes by you beams “Good morning!”
Then, a security guard wipes that cheer right off your face when he drills you as if you had instantly acquired criminal status by arriving at his station.
“I need to search that bag,” he says, pointing to the flowered purse strapped to your back to keep your hands free. “Are you carrying any weapons? Any sharp objects, anything that can be used to hurt someone?”
You shake your head “no” and turn your back to give him access and hide your disgust.
“Search away,” you say as fear grips you. The make-up bag you casually threw in there contains miniature tweezers and grooming scissors to fix yourself and your daughter, newly minted into motherhood, for pictures.
You breathe deeply, think of the slaughter by a gun-toting madman of 20 innocent children and six of their teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, and try to feel grateful for the security.
Newtown’s tragedy is the kind of moment that changes everything — forever.
It comes to mind out of nowhere to haunt you on one of the happiest days of your life when all you can think about is whispering sweet promises and cuddling your newborn granddaughter.
But who can blame the hospital’s administration when, instead of being outraged that rapid-fire assault weapons are easily available, people are buying guns and ammunition at increasing rates, clearing out shelves of precisely the type of assault rifle used in the Newtown massacre? This, in anticipation of presidential action this week aimed at tightening our lax gun-control laws.
No, this guard will not ruin this day, you think, as he rifles through the neatly folded windbreaker, the digital camera, the money and credit-card clutch with the little house and the embroidered motto “Life is good,” and the notebook where you’ve been keeping track of labor contractions and moments of extreme love, fear, and worry.
“I will need to search this bag again when you leave,” the guard warns.
Now he has worn out your patience — and aroused your reporter’s curiosity.
“And why would that be?”
“So that you don’t walk out with any hospital supplies,” he says.
What supplies? This public hospital is hardly a five-star hotel.
There were no little towels to press upon your daughter’s sweating forehead during labor, so you improvised wetting rough brown napkins. There were not enough pillows to keep her comfortable so loved ones held her. You and the other set of grandparents slept on the cold floor all night because there was not enough seating. You helped a lone nurse prep your fainting daughter to be rushed into the operating room — and when transportation assistance didn’t arrive, you helped push her bed through the doors.
You’ve been through too much and you’ve had enough, but you swallow this indignity as well because the guard waves you in.
You resurrect the smile and even say “thank you” to this man with the manners of a thug.
Once you’re in the room and celebrating life, after you’ve kissed and cuddled and loved with double the force, you tell the tale, and you start to think that maybe the guard was a little too eager. Maybe he’s a criminal deep inside and that credit card you used and carelessly threw back in your purse is no longer there.
You shake the thought as preposterous, the result of anger and fear — you and those gun buyers now in the same paranoid pod.
But you look, just in case.
You look in your purse because this is the kind of country we have become.