Woke up feeling anxious. Not a normal morning feeling for me. My thoughts were instantly with the recent school shooting in Uvalde. Maybe I was dreaming about it? No matter. Now it was all I could think of. About the fear in the children’s eyes, about the feelings of helplessness in the adults’ hearts, about the way I’m certain many of the teachers tried to keep the students calm and hopeful even while fearing for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.
I thought about how we’ve gotten to the point where it’s not a matter of IF a school will experience an active shooter, but of WHEN. I thought about my own school where I currently serve as High School Principal. What will we do when this hits us. What will I do when it hits us? I thought about how I know I’ll feel like I need to do something active in the moment, because if I don’t – and survive – I know I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I thought about how selfless that thought was in my attempt to help others. I thought about how selfish that thought was in how it ignored my wife and my kids and the ways they may need me to not put myself at risk.
I thought about all the amazing, beautiful, awkward, hilarious, loving, compassionate students I’ve been entrusted with for 8 hours of each day. Some of these kids see me more than they see their own parents. I thought about what would happen if any of them were gunned down. I thought about the intense grief of the entire community, the intense anger I would feel – if I survived, the helpless regret so many would feel for not doing something even though inaction was probably the safest option in the moment.
I thought about our incredible teachers who would step up to keep kids safe and calm. I thought about our amazing teachers who would put aside the need to care for their own stress at the moment or their own desire to reach out to loved ones for the sake of the children they’d be hiding with in their rooms. I thought about how completely unfair it is to be giving teachers that kind of responsibility. I thought about how in a country and culture that already so completely disrespects the most important people in our community – OUR EDUCATORS – we’ve now also turned their jobs into one of the most dangerous in the world. I thought about how our teachers don’t get paid enough, don’t get treated with enough respect, are not appreciated enough by their students, the parents, and even their own school’s administration. I thought about how our teachers were forced to return to school during a pandemic because we haven’t figured out how to create a stable, sustainable, and compassionate system of childcare, healthcare, and parental support. I thought about how on top of all that stress, they also have to worry about whether or not they’ll survive their next day at work. Or whether the people who are supposed to be risking their lives for others’ safety will even attempt to help them when the time comes.
I thought about the politicians and the wannabe community leaders who will take advantage of the opportunity to put on a show with their well-rehearsed, tried and true scripts telling us how our community will come out of this stronger than ever. How we won’t let this tragedy define us. How we need to stay calm until all the details are out. How the authorities are doing everything they can. How they will take swift action to see if the NRA has given them any money before deciding just how impotent they’ll continue to be. How their thoughts and prayers are with us — but their real action and solutions are not. They never are. I thought about the quote from Pope Francis: “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works” and how none of these politicians have a clue about true prayer. I thought about how it doesn’t even matter, because in the time it would take for them to actually show us any action, another shooting will have taken place, and all the world’s attention will go away from our little school and how every single life will have been traumatized and affected by it all for years to come.
I thought about how furious I would get by this performative grief and outrage. How I would want those politicians to keep my students’ names out of their mouths. How I would want to cut through all of the stupid rhetoric about gun rights and guns not killing people and whatever other nonsense they tell themselves – or are paid to sell – to keep everyone just quiet enough until their re-election. If I survived. I thought about how so many families’ lives have already been permanently changed by these senseless and completely avoidable tragedies. I thought about how deeply disappointed and disrespected families who’ve lost a child to a mass shooter must feel as they continue to see the rest of the country continue to do absolutely nothing and allow more children to be taken from us.
I thought about how if I had the platform, I would call on every single worker in the country to stop showing up to work. If money is all they respond to, bring the entire country to a halt. Stop every industry, every service, every possible thing that puts money into the pockets of people who continue to choose profits over lives and still have the audacity to tell us they don’t. We are losing children, we are losing our elderly, we are losing invaluable members of our Black community, members of our Asian community, members of our one HUMAN FAMILY every single day to the deadliest and most violent – and most stupidly avoidable – pandemic in our country: gun violence.
I thought about all this, and I nearly lost hope. But that is something I refuse to do. I refuse to ever – EVER – lose hope. I still have hope. Not in our politicians or in our wannabe leaders who are just out for fame and money. I have hope in the actual community leaders – those who are leading with a moral leadership, with a leadership characterized by empathy, compassion, love, and a strong sense of justice. You see them on the scene providing the kind of support that doesn’t sell on television because it’s quiet, thoughtful, and full of love. But it’s the leadership that matters most. I have hope in this generation of young people – a generation more connected, caring, open-minded, and passionate than ever – to lead us into a better tomorrow. If history has taught us anything, it’s that young people are always at the vanguard of positive social change. I have hope in the fact that the horrors of the world are forcing more and more people to snap out of their complacency, and eventually a tipping point will be inevitable. I worry for how much more we may have to endure before we get there, but will continue to hold on to hope. Because if we can all get our heads out our own butts for a few seconds to see how badly we all need to work together, and COMMIT to doing the work, I absolutely believe that future will come around a little bit sooner.
I thought about all this. I felt all of the stress. I still feel all of the stress as I write this. I thought about how unfair it feels for me to take on this stress. I don’t want this stress in my life. Nobody should have this stress in their life. But this stress I feel about a worst case WHAT IF is nothing compared to the stress, grief, anger, resentment, sadness, and disappointment felt by the countless people who have already experienced their worst case — burying their own children. People for whom it’s not a WHAT IF, but a WHAT NOW. But if this stress will keep me from falling into complacency, or will push me to strive for more change, I welcome it. I just hope I don’t let you down.