I’ve been around for awhile and I’ve seen a lot. Instead of being over the hill, I like to think of myself as stopping on the top and looking out at the view before I move down the hill. When I was a youngster, what really scared me was the witch from The Wizard of Oz. I lived through the killing of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. The moments are still vivid in my mind, yet these incidents didn’t scare me as much as hearing about a twenty-four-year-old man doing the unthinkable in the 1960s.
The first mass random shooting in American history took place on August 1, 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin. From the tall observation deck of University Tower, a man killed 16 people and wounded dozens of others. This horrified me that this could actually happen somewhere in America.
I have worked in the school system since 1988, working with students with all types of disabilities, including mental disorders. I’ve worked with students from four to eighteen years old and have served at many schools. In elementary school, first grade was my favorite age because they seem so eager and ready to learn. Presently, in high school, I find I have a heart for students with emotional disorders, however, I worry about their future.
My first experience with schools and violence came when I was working at a high school in Oregon. This was after Columbine, making all of us in the school system aware that something could happen almost anywhere. I was lucky; our school only experienced bomb threats. But, they were scary enough when the whole school had to leave the building.
It’s a sad thing when you have to pray for your safety and for those around you each day before you go to work/school. Some thought bullying was involved, so we made sure our students knew bullying was not okay. But it is more than bullying and we practice lock downs often in our schools.
This week I am heartbroken that first graders are shot down, as well as school staff at Sandy Hook Elementary. Yes, I feel less safe at school, but I’m not frightened this time, but deeply, disturbingly, sad and grieving. Students of the age I have favored so dearly are leaving this world due to a person with an emotional or mental disorder, another type of student I care about.
This is the first time, I’ve really asked why. Besides the fact that we all have free choice in what we do, I can’t give you a precise answer, but I have learned something through watching. I’ve learned that the whole nation is suffering, not only the victim’s families. So many of us would do anything to help when there is not much we can do but pray. I’ve learned that in an era of complaining about schools not doing enough, Sandy Hook’s staff members have given their lives for their students, and our love for our students has been exposed.
As a youngster, I learned to have faith in a higher power and still today I realize I don’t know how to exist without finding comfort there, and finding solace that when I get down this hill I’m traveling and pass on, I will get to move through an often mentioned tunnel of light and see my loved ones waiting for me and some of them will be students.