Later I discovered that it wasn't only fourteen students. It wasn't just one teacher. More young students and adults were reported dead as I was writing.
I was in high school when the Columbine school shooting happened. I remember the terror I felt, that all the kids felt, when the news struck. I remember my German teacher warning us afterward not to joke about violence, because grown-ups aren't clairvoyant. Did I imagine then that another school shooting might happen again, let alone hundreds of them? Or did I imagine it was a one-time, heinous blip? It's hard to remember now.
Sometimes I think about the risk teachers take every day when they go to work. I think about the risk I take as a parent every time I drop off my kids. One of my first thoughts on visiting the elementary school for Kindergarten orientation was, "This school was designed in an open format--how are the kids going to hide from a shooter?"
I remember in 2004 participating in lock-down drills as a school staff member. If a shooter entered the building, the grown-ups were to abandon the hallways, lock the doors, and get the kids to the back of the room as quietly as possible. I was the school librarian. Books on tall shelves would help protect anyone who made it to my room. But what about kids who didn't make it back into a room, assuming they were in the hallway? "Keep the door locked no matter what, or everyone in the room is in danger," we were told.
Thinking about the implications of this exercise at length led me down a spiral that I couldn't easily recover from, so I stopped letting myself go down it. Awareness of risks doesn't take away the necessity of living life. But now, in 2022, I'm aware that I retreat into my hardened shell with ease when I hear about real-life horrors, and maybe that's not such a great thing.
I don't think there are easy answers to this, but I do think that those of us who watch atrocities from a distance have an opportunity to show up in our daily lives, as Dr. Brené Brown says, with soft front, strong back, and wild heart. A soft front implies a willingness to be vulnerable with what and who is in front of you, even if there's shame or anger or fear involved. A strong back implies a willingness to set boundaries, to say no and take appropriate action in situations that are not acceptable. A wild heart implies a willingness to step into unknown territory and do the next right thing, even if we don't know yet what that will be.
What we are to do in the face of relentless school shootings feels like unknown territory, even twenty-three years after Columbine and ten years after Sandy Hook. What we've done so far clearly hasn't worked, but what will work?
Is it limiting access to firearms when people are clambering for them more than ever in hopes of protecting themselves and loved ones? If so, how will we address the fear and anger of law-abiding citizens whose access to weapons is being limited, while criminals and would-be criminals find their way around the law?
What about destigmatizing and increasing access to mental healthcare across the nation, at every stage of life, and subsidizing the costs associated with obtaining degrees/licensures in mental health fields?
On a more personal level, what about taking greater care with setting healthy boundaries in the presence of our children, starting with taking accountability for our own wrong actions, so that our children understand that taking accountability is both acceptable and expected? I know that I can do better with this around my own kids, and that is one thing I want give my intention to in the immediate future and beyond.
What one thing can you do today to make a ripple of change?