We have been through this before, but this, this feels different. These were babies. And though age does not determine the value of one’s life—these were babies, and as such our emotions are astronomically escalated.
I am a 4th grade teacher. My students are 9 and 10 years old. I found out about yesterday’s events when a neighboring teacher came into my room and showed me the news story on her phone. As the tears welled and my heart froze, I told her: “We can’t do this. We can’t do this right now. You have to go back to your classroom.” And I shut the door.
That’s not what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was huddle my kids together and squeeze them, cry a little, and tell them that if anybody ever tried to hurt them, I would kill them with my bare hands, with the entire force of my body, no matter what it took or how many times that person came at me. I would destroy that person and scatter his ashes to the wind.
But I couldn’t do that. In such times, we have to carry on, or we must at least make a valiant effort to appear as though we are carrying on. My mind was racing as we soldiered through our next lesson. What would I do? Do I have a plan? How could I get between my kids and a gunman should the need arise? How could I take him down? What could I use to defend my students? What could I use to smash out the windows?
The job description of a teacher has changed. You must be eloquent, intelligent, capable of managing a crowd, able to deal efficiently with unruly children and adults, able to defend your students from attack, and willing to take as many bullets as necessary to keep them safe.
This time just as every time, everyone says this isn’t the time to talk politics. Yes it is. This is exactly the time. Let’s have the fight everyone is boiling to have, let’s scream it out and carry signs and unfriend our relentless political Facebook friends and feel good about ourselves for it. Let’s get absolutely nothing done but congratulate ourselves because hey, we beat our breasts for a good long time and got a lot of ratings and contributions along the way, so that means something, right?
And then let’s realize that what we’re screaming about has only a tangential relationship to what actually happened.
Why is it easier to talk about guns than about mental health? Is not the key to prevention to address the cause, not only the symptoms?
Judging by the broad range of people who agree with that sentiment, this is not a partisan opinion. Call me naive, but if you feel the need to take up a weapon and murder 20 children before taking your own life, you have a mental illness. So why do we center only on the weapons, and not also the people? A psychiatrist friend of mine told me that when things like this happen, it is easier for people to focus on something tangible, like gun control, rather than something intangible such as ‘solving’ mental illness. I understand that; it makes sense. After all, it is easier to fix a broken toy than a broken heart. But we’re the adults in the room, I am the adult in the room, and we all have to stop grasping at the tangible straws.
I struggled with my mental health for years before finally getting the help I needed. I absolutely never speak of it, because I am ashamed of it. I don’t want people to know, and I still don’t. I do my best to avoid even thinking about that period of my life, but I am stating it here because the culture of shame surrounding mental illness in our country is reprehensible, and for the love of god, it has consequences.
How to fix it? That’s the debate we should be having; that’s the discussion. But let me be clear: This is the debate we should be having among ourselves, with our neighbors, with our friends. We could take the easy way out; we could spend years watching politicians yell at each other, years waiting for some ineffective law to be passed, years marking the deaths’ anniversaries. To do that, all we have to do is sit on our couches and watch CNN. That’s easy.
Or, we could take the hard road: We could speak to one another. We could take the responsibility of keeping our children safe seriously, and stop letting ourselves be led by whoever is screaming the loudest. Let’s ask people who actually know what they’re talking about, let’s find some space to speak and think rationally, let’s understand the cause and let’s take the time to actually find out how to stop the man from bursting through the door.