You read the title of this essay, and you know exactly what I’m talking about. On Tuesday morning nineteen parents said goodbye to their precious and beautiful children not knowing it would be the last time they’d see them alive. Those nineteen beautiful and precious children were killed when a man armed with two guns, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, walked into their school and took their lives.
Every time this happens, politicians appear with their brows furrowed. They address the public with feigned concern, shock and disbelief. Somber tones are invoked. Heads are lowered. It’s the same somber tone, concern, disbelief and furrowed brow we’ve all seen. We saw them after the one before this, and the one before that one — and all of the others before those. Year after year, shooting after shooting, young life after young life, the politicians all begin their method acting of shock and sadness, and then…nothing. They, literally, do nothing.
Sometimes when I lie in bed at night I run through the scenario in my head. I think about what will happen if/when the announcement comes over the loudspeaker or if I hear screams and/or shots — and realize it’s not a drill. Sometimes I run through the scenario on my way to work. As a music teacher I go to multiple classrooms throughout the day so I have to have different strategies. In one room the door opens to the right. In another the door opens to the left. In one classroom I’m pretty sure I can stand on the desk closest to the door. If the door is somehow opened, I can then jump on the assailant. In one former room, I used to have a tape mark on the floor. I knew I had to have my students behind the tape before I shut the lights. If they weren’t behind the mark, they would be seen through the door window. In another classroom, I had a baseball bat hidden in the ceiling.
I teach special needs children and some of them don’t possess the body awareness or control to keep quiet for an extended period. During the drill, I sit with these kids and hold their hands and try and teach them how to sit quietly. In the dark. Waiting.
Sometimes I lie awake and ask myself questions: Am I more beholden to my own children or my kids at school? If an attacker entered the school, and I ran out of the building in an effort to spare my own life so my children could continue to grow up with their father, would I be a coward? Am I expected to stay in the classroom and possibly die? These may sound like absurd and even surreal questions for a teacher to be asking himself. But they’re real nonetheless and have kept me awake for hours.
Every time it happens, the people in the community say the same things: How could anyone do such a thing? We never thought it could happen here. Did you think that when you dropped your kids at school today? Did you assume you’d see them at the end of the day? Did you assume that at 3:00 the front door of the school would open and everything would be normal? What happened in Texas could never happen where you live…right?
But they continue to happen. They happen in high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, universities, colleges, and dorms. They happen in middle-class communities. Rural communities, and upper middle-class communities. They happen in grocery stores, malls, department stores, concerts and movie theaters. No child, teen, tween, teacher, aid, principal, parent, aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, brother, sister, cousin, counselor, coach, professor, or custodian is immune from the possibility.
Neither are you.
In Texas, children as young as eight years old died. The attacker barricaded himself in the classroom so the police couldn’t get in. Two teachers were killed. It was horrific. But a few days later, politicians showed up at the NRA convention in Texas — just miles away from where the children were killed. One politician read the names of the children who were killed, and then danced.
There is going to be another one. You know it. I know it, and even people who aren’t reading this know it. It could come in a week. A couple of days, or a year. Someone’s going to lose their middle-school aged niece. Someone else, an elementary-school aged grandson or a college aged daughter. Maybe it’s going to be a high school senior who was getting ready to begin the next phase of her life. Maybe it’ll be a high school sophomore who finally got on track and was excelling academically. He was just beginning to come into his own. Maybe it’ll be a fifth grade girl who just got her braces off. The point is: It’s going to happen again. Then it’ll happen again after that, and after that…and after that. There will be another story about a teacher or classroom aid who gave their life while hiding their students in a closet. There will be a story about a teacher who disarmed the assailant. Questions will be asked, brows will furrow, there will be more method acting, and then…nothing will change.
And it’ll happen again.
This is now accepted: A disaffected young man (or men) walks into an American school building with a military grade assault weapon (or weapons) and kills innocent children and teachers inside. Think about that for minute. This is now an accepted — and expected — part of American life.
Now, start waiting for the next one. Then hope and pray to god it’s not your school and it’s not your kids.