I was on the elliptical today at the gym. I’d read/exercised for 20 minutes and was ready to move on to my core exercises when I glanced up at big screen televisions. Breaking News alerts were being flashed on CNN. My heart skipped.
A lot of things can cause a Breaking News alert but each time I see one, my heart skips. A bombing? A shooting?
Yes, as you well know, today’s breaking news was a shooting. A horrifying episode that leaves so many questions. I watched and read the latest update on the monitor.
I was heartbroken.
Well, heartbroken puts it mildly. I shook. Tears welled. A shooting is, likely, the the most terrifying fear of any teacher. As I searched my iPhone for news I dreaded reading I my heart melted for the families, the victims, the students and the staff. Oh. The staff. The adults who became teachers to have a positive impact in children’s lives were being looked to to protect, to answer questions they won’t have answers to and, eventually, to feel the pressure of their community. The staff had a plan in place, but now would be analyzed time and again: was this plan effective? Were they prepared? What went wrong? (These plans are customary for schools now, but they weren’t when I first started teaching).
Every time I hear of a school shooting this happens. I cry. I cry for hours. Today I sat at our gym cafe for 20 minutes, frozen. Unable to talk, to read, to do anything than stare straight ahead and think through the tears that quietly crept down my cheeks. It’s now eight hours after I first heard of the shooting and, still, I’ve thought of little else all day. My mind keeps going to the images on CNN. Just as they did after Seung-Hui Cho destroyed Virginia Tech.
Each time it gets worse. I have children. What if, I wonder, some day, my children are sitting in a cafeteria enjoying breakfast before the day begins and another student pulls out a gun? What if it’s my friend’s child? My child’s friend? My child?
I cried for the parents. I cried for the students. I cried for their friends and their community.
And then I cried for the teachers. Were there warning signs? Was the lockdown policy followed properly? Should the “stampede” that was reported have been what it was? Could anything have been done differently?
And I cried more as I thought of everything that the teachers had to bear this morning. Keeping students in dark corners of their classrooms quiet and calm, while internally freaking out with concern.
And then, I did something funny. I picked up my Kindle and started thinking of the novel that I’m currently reading: Stephen King’s 11-22-63, a story of a man who goes back in time to make a few changes including the assassination of President Kennedy, unsure of how those changes will impact the future. In my state of concern, I became angry at the author. Why is the goal to save the president, when the character could go back in time to change Columbine or Kent State or Virginia Tech or another school shooting? Wouldn’t that have been better than saving one person? Wouldn’t saving a school community do so much more?
I sound ridiculous, I’m sure. But my train of thought didn’t stop there.
What if we could change outcomes? What if we had the ability to go back in time and save a shooting from happening? I’m certain that every teacher, every parent, every student and every community member of every school that’s ever suffered anything as serious as a school shooting has had the same thought.
What if? they wonder.
What if I’d noticed the pain the child was suffering? What if I’d acted on that random tweet? What if I’d gone on a date with the boy two years ago when he asked me out, instead of blowing him off? What if I paid attention when he stopped hanging out with his friends? What if I hadn’t assigned him that F on his English paper? Did he really deserve detention last week?
But, we all know that we can’t change things. What we can do is snap out of our low feelings and look to the future, which I’m trying to do now. But snapping isn’t as easy for me today as it usually is. I’m stuck. I’m stuck in this realm of feeling so very badly for everyone involved; for everyone in our world because we have to live in a world where kids find no other response but to bring a gun to school and use it.
I’m a parent. I’m a teacher. What can I do? I can’t stuff my children in a chamber for their entire lives to keep them safe, can I?
I can’t tell them that this will never happen again.
Do I tell the kids? Is it time to let them know what a horrible place this world can be? Do I need to tell them that there are people in this world that will bring guns into schools and fill them with a fear that I didn’t know existed when I was in school?
Certainly not. But sooner or later they’re going to learn this.
And I want to be there when they do. I want to be a part of that conversation, no matter how difficult.
For now? I can cry. I can pray. I can hope beyond hope that history stops repeating itself and that children and adults will stop doing senseless things.
I can hope.
© 2012, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.