I arrived at Washington, D.C., in the late afternoon on a flight from Los Angeles. I had come for a birthday party: One of my best friends from college was turning 50 and his wife was turning 40 and they were having a joint party at a country club in Mitchellville, Md.
I didn’t realize that the weekend was also D.C.’s gay pride weekend celebration until my cab from the airport began to move though an ever-thickening swarm of rainbow-clad revelers and final came to a stop four blocks from my hotel, because that was as close as the driver could get me. I had to drag my luggage through the crowd and across a parade route.
It was a hassle, but hey, it was PRIDE! The celebratory mood was infectious.
I got settled in my room, got food, and then began to get dressed for the party. The only thing on my mind was the trivial concern of how far I would have to walk out of this zone to get an Uber.
Moments later, I heard the sound of people banging on doors and yelling something. I thought maybe it was people celebrating who crossed a line from revelry into rowdiness. I could tell that the sound was traveling down the hall. And then it became clear to me what they were yelling: “Help us! Somebody help us!”
As I approached the door to peer out of the peephole, a group of four young women were banging on my door. I opened it and they rushed in, explaining that they were at the parade, someone said that there were shots and they ran. They ran into my hotel and up the stairs to my floor.
They threw themselves down, on the bed, on the floor, anywhere they could find to discharge the stress of running in fear of their lives. One of them had lost her shoes in the scrum. They were panting, out of breath and just on the verge of tears, which would have marred the careful application of glitter on their faces.
They were panicked, so I figured that the best thing I could do for them was to be a calming presence. These women were young, about the age of my own daughter. I kept thinking, what if my daughter was banging on a door? Wouldn’t I want someone to let her in?
The first thing they wanted to do was to call their parents. I offered them something to drink, turned on the television to local news and took to Twitter to get them information, as hotel security came on the intercom to tell everyone to return to their room and stay there until further notice.
It seemed to work. They eventually calmed down enough for one to even manage a joke, saying to tell my friends that four white lesbians had burst in and taken over my room.
It eventually became clear that it was a false alarm. There had been no gunshots. They gathered their things to leave the room, and one asked if I was also leaving to go to the party, for which I was now quite late. I said no, that I was going to finish getting dressed.
She responded, the fear returning to her face, “Please walk us down.” I said, still trying to lighten the mood: “Well, looks like I’ll be getting dressed on the elevator. Let’s go.”
I walked them to the front door, and we parted ways.
It bothered me for the rest of the evening that the entire time the women were in my room they kept apologizing for being there, for disturbing me. It seemed to me that it was I who should have been apologizing to them, or more precisely, it was my generation that should be apologizing to theirs.
It is us who have watched mass shooting after mass shooting and done almost nothing about it, other than to breed and train into our young people a reflexive run-for-your-life or shelter-in-place sensibility.
Mass shooters have become our domestic terrorists, and the possibility of their presence and threat of their carnage is now an ambient dread in the American psyche.
There are not many countries in the world where a fun parade could so quickly dissolve into hysteria because it is absolutely plausible that there could be yet another man with a weapon hellbent on watching bullets rip through flesh.
The National Rifle Association and their conservative handmaidens in Washington have hampered any real movement on the issue of gun control. And so, our country has become conditioned to unending carnage. It is the tableau against which the American story unfolds.
Those women in my room had every right to fear for their lives. It was perfectly understandable that they could believe that a mass shooter could be anywhere, even at a parade bursting with rainbows.
That is the ghastly legacy that my generation has bequeathed to theirs.
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