Fourteen years ago I had these same feelings. They’re the feelings that make me shake my head and say, “Really? We have to keep ‘topping’ ourselves when it comes to unexplained horrible events?” I hate it. In a time when the “Well, it didn’t hurt me” philosophy reigns, I beg to differ.
In 1999, my oldest son was in first grade and his 6-year-old classmate George Alberre was accidentally shot and killed. I remember the outpouring that accompanied this unthinkable event and the momentum at the time to require gun locks.
Most pointedly, I remember my sweet son, who is now 21, looking at me after learning about George and saying, “Mommy, who will sit by me in music [class]?” His class drew pictures to help them process the news. His had George with wings and a halo. I had no doubt it reflected truth.
Then just a few short days ago another shooting took another life – this time a young lady, 13, who was a student at the school where I teach. With counselors available all day, students migrated in and out of class for comfort. I went there to see what was offered but earlier in the day, I had sat in the hall with two of my students. They’d asked for permission to be there since one wanted to share a poem she’d written in honor of Titania Mitchell, the student who died. It was one day I was especially glad to be a writing teacher.
As I slid down the wall to sit and listen, one student looked at me and said, “Now Titania won’t be able to come to my 13th birthday party this weekend.”
It about killed me.
The other student looked at me and said, “I don’t know what science will be like. Titania was my lab partner.”
The fact is these horrible experiences reinforce the reality that we affect each other – by the words we say and the actions we take. We try to cope in healthy ways in a volatile environment where the questions of life and death permeate existence. Doing something – anything – helps to begin the healing. For our students, it was wearing pink in Titana’s memory. For others it was writing notes to her family, making cards or even wearing a tshirt with her picture.
Grief is grating and while I wish my students weren’t experiencing it I hope we will all walk the road together realizing that it’s much easier with friends accompanying us than doing it alone. Schools may not be an actual family but they are a community – where the welfare of others is an important part of its vibrancy. I was proud to see students being more patient with each other in the halls. I was glad to see young men wearing pink shirts In Titania’s memory, or white tshirts with a pink T made from duct tape on the front. I even had a young man in one class who carried a “Hello Kitty” folder with him today as a sign of his participation.
And while I detest having the recurrence of these feelings, I know they mean I’m still alive and that I still “feel.” What I hope is that as our young people work through this time that they will realize how precious they are, that they will have adults in their lives who are willing to listen and that they will learn the lesson many of us fail to learn when tragedy strikes – life is meant to be lived now, not tomorrow.