The Swelling Tide, Part 2

It’s that terrible scene that you’ve seen too many times – on television, in the newspaper, on the front cover of Time Magazine, in your nightmares, on slideshows at presentations – being shown suddenly, unexpectedly, shockingly.

It’s the name of your high school – where you were on the colorguard, where you developed a love for Shakespeare, and where you kissed your first boyfriend in the parking lot – being used as a noun that encompasses some of the most horrifying tragedies that have happened in our nation in the last 19 years.

It’s the fact that shootings just keep happening, and yours is a part of the national dialogue every time.

It’s your trauma being resurfaced over and over and over again, for 19 years.

Today I went willingly into a room with my fellow seminarians to learn more about what to do in the case of an active shooter on our seminary campus. It’s an informational session I’ve sat through many times, and even helped facilitate a few times. It’s a session that is always accompanied by a pounding heart, waiting for my school – Columbine – to be named. I wonder what will this presenter say about us? Today I thought I was in the clear. The presentation began with graphs depicting the statistics about school shootings from 2000-2013. And then, on the next slide, was the infamous black and white security camera photo of my school cafeteria, featuring tables, backpacks, and two armed students*. It’s a photo we’ve all seen many, many times, and I wonder if it is even recognizable it as a school cafeteria, or if it is just a symbol for massacre. For us, it was our commons. We bought Chick fil a sandwiches from the lunch line, and blueberry bagels with cream cheese from the school store. Our English class celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday there, with a multitude of birthday cakes and extravagant singing.

That security camera photo shocks me every time. It’s a place I know so thoroughly, and yet it’s also a place that’s so incredibly foreign. My brain has tried to reconstruct what it felt like for my friends to be there, to hide under those tables, to run out those doors, to race to lock themselves in a bathroom stall with their feet up, while they heard the ringing of bullets inside our lunchroom.

Onwards from that photo in the presentation, it’s the language, seemingly informational, seemingly innocuous.

“…47 minutes…”

“…Jefferson County handled it poorly…”

“…the science teacher…”

“…13 kids killed…”

It seems merely factual, but it’s so much more. It does not define, and it does not rule me, but it shapes me in a dramatic way.  It’s what I process and grieve and process and grieve and process and grieve – and it’s been an enormous challenge for the last 19 years.

For the 13 who lost their lives and for the two who took their own lives at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999; for the 27 who lost their lives and for the one who took his own life connected with Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012; for the 17 who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018; and for the many, many victims of gun violence that have taken place between these tragic events – we must as a society acknowledge the devastating and massive implications of these events. It’s the 13, the 27, and the 17 who are tragically impacted, and it’s the countless parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, classmates, teachers, pastors, neighbors, and so many more, who feel the heartbreaking impact of these tragedies long after the media has stopped reporting and people have stopped attending candlelit vigils.

I sat in a meeting today, with my hair curtaining my face, hands clenched in my lap, willing myself to breathe, to calm down – it would be over soon – until it wasn’t over and I could no longer contain my emotions and so I ran out of the meeting room and cried in the bathroom.

It’s been 19 years, and nothing has changed about the tragedy of school shootings. The devastation and destruction that this type of tragedy creates lasts for a lifetime for every single person who is involved.

When a school shooting happens, peace is destroyed. Peace for families, left with a gaping hole; peace for teachers, left forever watching the door and thinking about places to hide; peace for students, left with memories or imaginings of the violence that happened in their library, their science classroom, by their locker, to their friend; peace for communities, left with the awareness that they are not safe.

School shootings destroy peace immediately, and they continue to bring destruction that lasts and lasts, 19 years later and beyond. When we do not change the laws that allow school shootings to continue happening or that do not properly provide mental health support, or when we do not elect public officials who believe gun violence is an issue and are willing to do something about it, we are collectively saying that it is okay for our children to be killed at school. We are saying it is okay for countless students and teachers to struggle with PTSD and anxiety and depression and addiction, long after their high school years are over. We are saying it is okay for families to be torn apart.

THIS IS NOT OKAY.

Everyone agrees this is not okay.

But still, nothing has changed.

I can do better. You can do better.

We can do better, together.

Tomorrow is the 19th anniversary of the shooting at my high school, Columbine High School. Tomorrow my social media will be flooded with Columbine flowers, and words of peace and love, just as it has been for the last 12 years since I joined social media.

It is time for that, and it is time for MORE. It is time for all of us who are outraged to add our voices to the swelling tide of those who are marching, speaking out, and demanding change. It is time for us work together to help our lawmakers understand what’s really at stake in our schools and for our nation when we allow this violence to move forward unchecked.

Write a letter to the editor, write or call your congressman, write or verbalize your support of a politician who shares your outrage and your dreams, write or talk to a friend or family member about why this issue matters. Ensure you are registered to vote, and plan to vote in the upcoming primary elections. Find your local chapter of Moms Demand Action and show up to the next meeting. Go to an event on the 20th and march or stand or protest in solidarity. Visit Protect Our Schools to learn more and to take action.

It is my hope that, 19 years later, you will finally be angry enough and heartbroken enough and sick of it enough that you will join with me to say “NO MORE” with your words, your actions, your dollars, and your votes.

 

*Please visit No Notoriety for more information and a challenge to mass media.

Read Part 1 here

Read my story from April 20, 1999, written in 2012, here

The Swelling Tide: Part 1

I sat on the edge of my bed, sobbing as my boombox’s radio filled my room with Sarah Machlachlan’s “Angel.” Less than a week ago I had danced to this song with my winter guard. Today, it was being played in honor of the 12 students and 1 teacher who were murdered at our high school by 2 student gunmen who also took their own lives. School violence like this hadn’t happened on this scale in our country until now, and it certainly hadn’t happened in Littleton, Colorado. I had been glued to the television for days, watching in alternating horror, disbelief, and numbness as the news unpacked this tragedy. I left the television to go to friends’ houses, to attend a vigil at my church, to visit the enormous memorial at Clement Park, to mourn at funerals, to go to speak with a pastor. Family and friends came to visit, bringing flowers and food. My aunt asked me how I was, I said I was fine. She looked at me in disbelief.

I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine at 16 years old, in the days following the shooting at my high school, and I’m not fine now, at 35 years old, in the days and months and years following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, or the shooting in Las Vegas, or the shooting at Pulse nightclub, or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, or the shooting at Virginia Tech, or the shooting at ….

In 1999, the conversation wasn’t focused on gun control, and our terrible tragedy was considered unique. To that end, the conversation at the time did include safety measures for schools for moving forward. Marjory Stoneman Douglas knew all those safety measures. They practiced, as all American schools do, multiple times a year, and they did it well when their day came. And yet those 17 were still murdered in their school. The stories of students and teachers in closets and under desks, hiding in bathroom stalls, and racing through the hallways are the same stories we told back in April of 1999 as we gathered with our friends. The photos that immediately came out of Parkland, Florida are the same as the photos from Littleton, Colorado following April 20: parents clutching their children, people sobbing, teenagers looking scared and in disbelief.

It’s been 19 years, and nothing has changed about the tragedy of school shootings. The devastation and destruction that this type of tragedy creates lasts for a lifetime for every single person who is involved.

What has changed in the past 19 years are the brave voices who are speaking out to advocate, to hold accountable, to take steps so that this most reprehensible of tragedies will not continue. I am in awe and in complete support of these bold and long-awaited voices.

I add my voice to this swelling tide as a 16 year-old girl who was heartbroken and didn’t know what to do except move forward, and I add my voice to this resounding chorus as a 35 year-old woman with two children of my own. I’m not fine, and these are not stories I like telling, but they’re stories that must be told to understand the depth and breadth of the tragedy of school shootings, outside the immediate consequences.

I’ll share one story in this series a week as we move toward the 19th anniversary of the shooting at my high school. It is my hope that sharing my stories may encourage others to share their own. It is my hope that sharing my stories will help our voters and lawmakers understand what’s really at stake in our schools and for our nation when we allow this violence to move forward unchecked.

I’ll proudly join the March For Our Lives tomorrow, and I hope you will, in your respective cities, too. It is no longer a time to be numb, no longer a time to sit quietly. I’ll march tomorrow for myself, for my children, for my former students, for my friends who cannot march, and for so many others who deserve better.

#theaftermath #whatreallyhappens #19yearslater #mystory #ourstories

#marchforourlives #neveragain #momsdemandaction #everytown