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I am not one to wax rhapsodic about the Garden State Mall. Although I live just a couple of miles away from it and it is the “go-to” mall for people around these parts, I am not much of a shopper. I can gladly go months and even years in between visits to it. But now I’m the mother of a teen fashionista so I go pretty regularly.

Any unusual event leads to a personal gut check: where do I fit in to it? So when a friend texted me the news about the armed gunman at the Garden State Mall, one of my first thoughts was: I was almost there tonight. When I got home from work my daughter started bugging me that she has “no jeans.” (Because the fact that she has only 32 puts me on some kind of child-neglect watch list, apparently). It was only after securing a promise that I’d take her this weekend that she let up about going last night.

But, of course, history is filled with those near misses, the missed flight that explodes in mid air, the people who were late for work on 9/11. I could have been there, we tell ourselves with relief when we weren’t. The fact that we were spared is made to mean something about luck or worthiness or our reason for being here. It staves off the randomness of life.

So I wasn’t at Garden State. I can’t say that knowing a crazy guy covered in Kevlar was just roaming its cavernous bowels with a gun makes me any more enthusiastic about going. Although, thankfully, no one but the gunman was hurt, it’s yet another reminder of the soft vulnerability of public places in the gun nation.

As the holidays draw near the retail machine will tell is that as is well, that we are safe and that we flip off the crazies by taking advantage of the electronics sale in aisle six. And another opportunity passes us by to talk about the real issues endangering our safety: mental illness and the gun culture.

Garden State Mall, I’ve never been a fan of your frenetic buzz and the gladiatorial event that is finding parking in your overcrowded lots. But today I love you and I’m sorry for your loss of innocence. I am sorry for us all.

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