Beginning each conversation, we need to pick an issue to discuss. As I consider the world around us and look for somewhere to begin, I am increasingly drawn to finding a solution to prevent the mass shootings and killings in this world.
People have tons of ideas and opinions on how to prevent these events. They talk about gun control laws, they talk about arming ordinary people, they talk about improving mental health support.
However, what is the basic problem to be solved here?
I believe that the basic problem is that we all fear dying from a gunshot as we all walk the streets and go to school or church or the mall or the nightclub or the park, we all fear our children will be shot in their schoolrooms, we all fear that we will forever view these sorts of tragedies as everyday instead of unusual.
So, I know that I want to remove that fear from my life, and I believe others do as well. This fear angers me and propels me into action.
However, before we begin the hard part of the conversation (the part where we converse and come together and find real solutions for this problem), let’s start by finding our stories around this issue. Here is mine:
As I hear about a school shooting, I think of the safety I felt at school as a child, surrounded by teachers and wandering about the school ground. My mother taught elementary music when I was in kindergarten, so once or twice a week (I can’t remember anymore) she would come to my classroom and teach us music. One day, lonely for her, I followed her home (we only lived a few yards from the school) and she let me stay, calling the school and letting them know where I was.
As I grew up, we remained in small towns. Even as I pushed against the loneliness and the realization that I would never fit in, I felt safe. My biggest worry was figuring out how to fit in with the people I wanted to be my friends; finding the right clothes; realizing that I would never fit in because I just didn’t want to; persevering through those hours of school time until I could go home and go to my room and find freedom in my books, music, and imagination.
I may have been an outcast, but I always felt safe at school.
After I graduated from college, I got a job at the same university as an administrative assistant. One day, a particularly edgy professor was let go from his position after many, many complaints from students and other teachers. The security service was called to escort him from the campus and, during the exit, he made several disturbing comments which led my supervisor to warn me and the receptionist (since we were closest to the front door) to watch out for this fellow. The inference was that this guy could show up with a grievance and a gun.
Back in 1992, these things were possible (it was after the workplace shooting which launched the inimitable phrase, “Going postal”), but very unusual.
My day got set on edge at that moment. I spent the day jittery, jumping at every loud noise and planning what I could do if this guy showed up with his gun. Where could I hide? Who would see the gun first? Could I protect my fellow employees? How would I even do that?
I felt betrayed. As an adult, I knew that teachers were only people, but here at school, they were supposed to be our protectors. That one would come to the office and start shooting secretaries seemed like it should be unthinkable.
I felt betrayed. The university, more than any other place of learning, had been a safe place, a place of freedom. This was the place where I found myself and others who were like me. This was the place where I experienced love and loss and learning and deeply felt art.
I felt betrayed. My job used my brain and my time for a pittance, and I shouldn’t have to worry about dying in order to fulfill my hours for the workday.
After work that day, I went home and railed against the universe. How could I go back to work? How could I make my workplace a safe place to be? How could I make my school safe again?
Of course, I pulled on my big girl panties and went back to work the next day, shaken but undeterred from paying my bills.
I wasn’t afraid. Well, I was afraid, but I was angry too. How could that one fellow throw my being into such a tizzy? I’d never spent any time with him. I didn’t really know who he was. Today, I don’t even remember his name. And yet, my entire life had been changed with the realization that my workplace and my school were not necessarily safe.
So, whenever I hear about a shooting at a school or a nightclub or a church, I remember that day and how nervous I felt all day long. I remember the betrayal and the fear and the anger hitting me in the heart and belly.
That is my story. That is my visceral point of reference.
What is your story about gun violence? What is your point of reference when you enter these discussions about how to remove this fear from our lives?
Considering your story and putting it into words helps you find your point of reference as you start participating in the conversation. Until I began to write this blog post, I didn’t realize how much that single afternoon colored my views on this issue.
Sharing your story helps us all understand your experience and empathize with you as we come together and start to create real solutions for the problems we are considering.
Let’s share our stories. No solutions, no points of view, no judgement, no politics. Just the story.
We’ll talk about the rest later.