Today's school shooting in Connecticut that left 20 children and six staff members dead is an unspeakable tragedy that has left everyone feeling numb and helpless. As someone who works in a kindergarten classroom, I find it impossible to imagine someone harming innocent five- and six-year-old children. I've heard people say, "How can you look at a little child's face and shoot them?" and the only thing I can answer is that the shooter must have been insanely blind to his victims.
People are spouting off about gun control and the improvement of our mental health system. And both have valid points. The guns used were purchased legally and owned by the victim's mother (say some sources). Perhaps she did not take measures to keep them from her son who suffered from a personality disorder (as some sources claim). Or perhaps she purchased the guns FOR the young man, unaware that he would ever use them to harm someone - including herself. The guns were not assault rifles, they were handguns and many, many people own handguns. Should there be more gun control laws? Arguments abound on both sides. Personally I don't think anyone should own an assault rifle. But I think it's fine to own a handgun or hunting rifle or shotgun for personal protection and hunting. And I think if you own them, you should be responsible for locking them up and denying access to anyone except the registered owner. But I also know that no law keeps someone from committing a crime. People do bad things.
Should our mental health system be improved? Hell yes! Too many people suffer from mental illness and/or the effects of abuse and there are precious little resources to help them deal with it. In my own family, we deal with depression and anxiety, and our personal foray into the world of mental health and the treatments available have been full of frustration and disillusion. The sad truth is, most people are left to seek help on their own, if they are lucky enough to have insurance to cover the very expensive medications and counseling that are so helpful in the treatment of mental illness. If a person is suicidal, they wait in an ER until a bed is available at a facility that might be hours away from home, and even then, they are often given a standard 72 hour stay at which time they are released to their own providers (if they even have one). We couldn't even find a support group in our very progressive city of Seattle for teenagers suffering from depression and anxiety that wasn't also a drug and alcohol treatment facility. Not every teen who suffers from mental illness has a drug problem (although many do, because where treatment lacks, drugs and alcohol work wonders to numb the pain). We started our own group, but we're not professionals. And my family is very lucky - we are in a demographic that has access to mental health insurance, live in a progressive and accepting city, and have the education and resources to seek out treatment - and yet we still fall flat when it comes to finding something truly worthy of making a change.
But today, right now, none of this matters to the parents of the children who lost their lives today, or to the families that lost an adult member. Because I'm guessing those babies had presents under the tree already, that perhaps Santa photos were just taken, that they were going to be the center of attention at a big, family holiday gathering. I'm guessing their parents started today like any other day - looking for a lost sock, stuffing a folder hastily into a backpack, wiping sticky syrup off a tiny face and saying a hasty goodbye without ever knowing (or even considering) that it would be the last time. Parents were likely off at their jobs, or running errands, or home caring for younger siblings when they heard the news. They probably rushed to the school in a surreal daze, thinking surely their children were unharmed, and, for some of them, knowing that it had to be the worst possible situation when they could not find their child's face in the crowd.
I'm guessing the adult staff members were going about their business but sprung into action at the first sign that danger was imminent. Because when you work with children, they are ALL your children. If you are a parent and work with children, your mother instinct kicks in and you spread your mother wings and shelter all of the children you come in contact with. Your professional training kicks in, the lockdown procedures are begun, but never in a million years would you think it would ever be "the real thing" when you turn off the lights, lock the doors, shelter the children and place a ridiculously thin piece of black laminated poster board over the glass in your classroom door. In the dark, you feel insulated to the danger outside, but glass is thin and doors cannot stop a bullet.
The sad, sad truth is, it is so very easy to walk on to a school campus without being noticed or questioned. Of course all school employees are trained to question anyone without a badge, but parents escort their children on to school campuses every single day and there is no way to know if they are legitimate visitors or not. My own school is in a heavily wooded area. Even in the best of circumstances, there are many places to hide out and wait and it would only take a second to slip into a classroom. We simply cannot protect ourselves from the evil of the outside world. A movie theater is not safe. A mall is not safe. Our own cars are not safe. Nor are our homes. We live with our guard up immediately after a scary event, and then the barriers, physical and imagined, come down and we ease into the naive reality that we are "safe."
What can we do? We cannot hide in our homes (which, again, are also not safe - ever heard of a home invasion burglary?). We must live our lives and move forward. Perhaps we are too afraid of knowing that any single day could be our last. Accidents happen. People get sick and die. Babies get shot. Is there any comfort in living our lives as though each day could be our last? Can we ease our burdened souls by living as compassionately as possible? Doing good each day? Reaching out to our fellow man?
I hate to question my own faith, but of course God has to play a role in this because I've heard His name a lot today. "God, where were you during today's school shooting? God: I'm not allowed in schools." Where WAS God? Certainly taking God out of schools played no role in the shooter's choice to do what he did today. I don't want to get into a religious debate, because I'm not honestly sure where I stand with it all, but if anything, one could argue that God made the shooter the way he was, mental illness and all. I like to believe that God is there to protect us, but bad things happen all the time and where is God then? I don't know. It's kind of hard to wrap my head around our God allowing twenty innocent lives to be taken so soon. Heaven needed more angels? I'm betting the parents of those children are saying "Screw Heaven. Give me one more day with my baby!"
So, we pray. And we shake our heads in disbelief. We rail about gun control and our mental health system. We look for someone to blame. We hug our own kids tighter, and, let's admit it, say thank God it wasn't MY child. Hopefully we fight for the changes we believe need to be made and we think twice about how we treat people and we try to be a little more compassionate. But nothing will bring back those brave teachers and helpless children who's lives were snuffed out so methodically by someone who was too sick or too much in pain or just too out of touch to think first. We all hurt inside. But none more than the families who's arms will ache to hold their loved ones one more time. Surround them with love, God, if you're still there.