When I was growing up, my father believed in preparing his children for possible disasters, so that if one occurred, we wouldn’t have to think what to do—we’d already know. He turned it into a sort of game, a what-would-you-do-if game.
“What would you do if there were a fire in your bedroom, right at the door?” he asked me one day.
Having seen way too much unrealistic television, I said I’d put my arm in front of my face and run through the flames. Bluntly, he told me I’d be dead. My second choice was to break out the window and climb out into the yard. “Break it with what?” he asked. “A chair,” I answered. Nope – I’d be cut by the jagged shards of glass.
The correct answer is you pull out a drawer, break the glass with that so you have a clean break and can climb out without slicing an artery.
By the time I was 10, I knew how to break up a dog fight, free myself from the grip of a stranger who has grabbed my arm, survive in a rip current, and escape injury in an earthquake. There was never any lesson in what to do if someone came into my school with a gun and began shooting people. I am very certain that if my wild imagination had conjured up such a scenario, my father would have sat me down and had a serious talk about how that would never happen.
That was then, in an America that no longer exists.
Since Sandy Hook in 2012, when 20 6- and 7-year-old children, along with six teachers, were shot and killed by Adam Lanza, there have been more than 239 school shootings, with 438 people shot. This is according to the Gun Violence Archive; other sources cite higher numbers.
Young children and teenagers go to classes every day not knowing if their school will be next. And if it is, will they live through it? If they do, how will they live their lives from that point on? This is a battlefield mentality. This is how soldiers feel when they go to war: Will this be the day when the attack comes? Will I be intact? Will I survive?
Two students from the Parkland shooting have committed suicide. Sydney Aiello, who was 19 and had been diagnosed with PTSD, took her life in March of this year. Calvin Desir, who was 16, took his life not long after. They survived the shooting but couldn’t survive the memories.
We are not burdened by an absence of solid plans for getting control of the gun violence in our country. We are burdened by lawmakers who do nothing. Perhaps they should go visit some VA centers and get to know soldiers who have PTSD.
Because we are going to have a generation of Americans who suffer, in large numbers, from PTSD. We can calculate how many have died in school shootings, but have we calculated how many lived and will be forever haunted by what they witnessed?
Those kids are going to grow up with images they will never get out of their heads. Someday they will send their own kids to school. Linger for a moment on what that will conjure up for them and what they will tell their children. Fear rolls over from one generation to the next, unless radical change intervenes to lessen that fear.
Twelve-year-old children should not have to think the way Nate Holley did in the latest shooting — at least as I write this — at the STEM school in Colorado. As he crouched in a closet, he said, “I had my hand on a metal baseball bat, just in case, cuz I was gonna go down fighting if I was gonna go down.” In that same shooting, Kendrick Castillo charged the gunman and died saving fellow students. Previously, in the April 30th school shooting in North Carolina, Riley Howell gave his life to save others.
Every morning, every week, when parents send their kids off to school, they are very possibly sending them into a war zone. Children who once were lectured about being prepared for Math class now have to be prepared for a gunman storming into their school.
There will be another school shooting. And another and another and another after that, for as long as those who were elected to serve us sit by and do nothing. More children will die. Those who survive live the rest of their lives with images and memories that hardened soldiers have a tough time coping with. They will wonder why the people who could have made a difference didn’t. Why there was silence instead of action.
Wendell Berry said, “The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.”
Children and teenagers have added something better to our country with their heroism. They gave their young lives to save others, while men and women on Capitol Hill did nothing, knowing all the while that another shooter is already loading his weapon.