When I was a child, I remember fire and tornado drills at school. Mostly, they were social experiences. We would casually file out of our classrooms to the designated areas and then, in hushed tones, visit with our friends. We weren’t really concerned about getting caught up in a natural disaster, but we did know what to do if the moment arrived. Today, students still have fire and tornado drills. There is a difference now, though… more prominent are their active shooter drills. There is real concern on the parts of our students that they might actually be confronted by a situation requiring them to put these practiced efforts to use. Times certainly have changed.
Like you, I watched in horror last week as images of terrified teenagers and their school teachers and administrators fled from the seemingly safe haven of Parkland High School. My own son, Ian, has a friend who is a junior at Parkland.
Ian’s friend recounted his experience… he hid in a closet while the shooter carried out his massacre of former schoolmates. Ian’s friend’s brother spoke of stepping over fallen classmates in order to get out of the building safely.
The morning after the Parkland shooting, I held on to Ian with extra might. I wouldn’t let him go from my embrace. After a very lengthy hug, he said, “OK, Mama, it’s OK.” I looked at him and said, “please, be safe today,” as I choked back a sob.
What is going on? Why are our children talking about fleeing buildings and the specific names of weapons of war? Why does my child feel afraid to go to school? Afraid to go to school? What?
This post is not about gun rights or legislative changes or blue and red views or politics at all. It’s not about disaster preparedness or knowing how to respond when tragedy strikes. This is about a different type of preparedness: It’s about loving one another. It’s about coming together in a way that conveys care and concern and compassion for others. It’s about being ready and present when needed.
A few days ago, I heard a compelling interview on NPR about how constant exposure to mass tragedy impacts people with Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University School of Public Health. He said, “From a system change point of view, one hopes that our shared compassion for the people who are directly affected by these events will push us into action that will stop some of these events.”
I don’t know what could have been done to prevent Parkland or the dozens of other school shootings that have taken innocent lives over the past several years. I do know that we each have a role to play. We may not be able to “save” every person from loneliness, isolation, depression, mental illness or other causes of people acting out. However, we can express compassion. We can make sure to be kind. We can ensure that bullying is curtailed by not standing idly by while others are bullied nor serving as bullies ourselves. We can invite the outsider in. We can make sure that everyone has someone to sit with in the lunchroom.
Please, please care for one another. I care for you. You matter to me. Thank you for being part of my community.