I’m in a classroom on average 4 days a week. This Tuesday, the teacher I was filling in for had asked me to review “LOCKDOWN” procedures. This is not something I remember from my schooldays. Tornado and earthquake drills, yes. Lockdown? No.
I asked for hands about what to do in the event of a lockdown.
Yes, in the back.
Um, go to the computers. He points to an inside corner away from windows and doors.
Good. Someone else?
Lock the door and pull down the shade and don’t let nobody in.
It goes like this. Someone yells lockdown. Anyone in range echoes the call. Everyone enters the classroom closest to them. Close all shades. Find a safe place away from windows. No talking. No noise. Take attendance. No one leaves until an officer or an administrator physically enters the room.
As we go through these procedures, the class, mostly seventh grade, giggles, calls out. I learned this in kindergarten.
I ask them to refocus in the way a substitute teacher often must and remind them of the gravity of what one of these situations could be like, and why we continue to go over these guidelines. I get a lot of looks with a lot of attitude. They don’t buy it. Not here. Not them. There hasn’t been a school shooting in a while, and they’re all, like, in Wyoming or something. That was Tuesday.
Three days later, in a town two states south, one man fashions another unspeakable act. I think of the attitude I get sometimes from a ten-year old, as she says “Whatever” because her math problems don’t make sense. The fourth grader I worked with yesterday with the mannerisms of a first grader, who can recap, in detail, all four of the Ice Age Pixar movies. The second grader who thinks he can’t write, but fashions elaborate metaphor and doorways into the caverns of countless imaginary worlds. The fourth grader who has no hold back at school, and repeatedly says how “fucking stupid” it is.
Every human being has a broad scope of potential, but with every child it is drawn down to a pin that explodes into a universe of infinitesimal possibility. Each child has countless chances to alter the course of our trajectory, chances we too once had and embraced.
In Connecticut tonight there are twenty less bulbs radiating from the smallest filaments. Twenty of our children. And eight more of our grown children. Gone. It’s easy to push it away. Down where angels fear to tread. To try to make sense of a heart-crushing series of possibilities that led one man to steal away with what belongs to no one is folly at best, and self-destructive at worst.
Surely we will hear claims that gun control should top the agenda once again, and politics will be back to normal. But gun control is not the issue here. It is not too late to ask ourselves, our neighbors, our most despised colleagues, what else can we find? The answers have never been to control. The answers have never been to punish.
It is time to start treating problems where we can. Whenever we can, with the compassion that is powerful enough to lay the weapons aside.
President Obama said that he knows tonight that every parent in America will hug their children a little tighter this evening. Although I do hope so, I’m afraid I know differently. There are some children tonight for whom there will be no hugs. No smiles. No one there at all.
It is not pure neglect, though some exists. Some parents are trying with their own well-being, double-shifts and empty pockets, just to put a meal on the table.
It is places like these that our attention is needed. Not only today, in the face of tragedy. All days.
Our problems are vast. Our gunman was once a child, too. A mere dot with racing possibility. What society funneled him into this end?
I am not filled with such hubris to suggest that all senseless acts can be avoided by providing an alternate past for the perpetrator. But, I know without a doubt that some can. We never know which some.
We are not innocent bystanders. We have a responsibility to ourselves, our children, the hermit neighbor down the street.
So, yes, hug your children tight tonight, and every night. But do more than that. Give your employees the raise they deserve. Bake Christmas cookies for the whole apartment complex. Look into the eyes of those you pass on the street. Find what they need most, and give it to them.