‘When something like this happens . . . ‘


Many people are finding it emotionally challenging to watch the news these days. They do not feel connected to events, to politics, to the ebb and flow of our national debate. I understand that.

Just last week I was thinking over my personal experiences with accidental shootings leading to lost use of legs, to murders, and to suicides—yes, plural for each. I have known no one who was killed by a serial killer or terrorist, but people I know have been crippled and murdered, and all were the victims of white men. There is nothing unusual about that. In my country, most murderers and terrorists have been white, male, and Christian, even when the majority of citizens were not.

I love and would trust with my life, most every white male I know personally. They would not harm anyone based on color, religion, or politics. They are joined to one another through their communities and by love and respect.

So then, the past few days.

Things happen. Terrible things happen to everyone. A father commits suicide in the driveway while his daughter desperately beats on the locked car doors and windows to stop him—something similar happened to more than one of my students. A girl slept on the dirt floor of a shed, determined to stay with her homeless mother who was mentally ill and drug-addicted. A father returned from Iraq with no visible wounds but still changed beyond recognition. A student hospitalized, not for the first time, in a mental facility. Mothers and fathers died. A student drowned. Students died in car wrecks. Students killed themselves.

Ask any teacher in a weak moment and they will share their stories.

Then there was the student who slammed a school desk into a wall, the one who threw a chair, a padlock. The ones who did not want me to know what bothered them. The cruel parent, the near fatal overdose, the guilty confession of keeping score of girls, the marks on my board to count off the days without drinking.

I do not know how to adequately respond to cries for help. I have done my best as a mandatory reporter. I have offered comfort, I have listened. I have tried to be what my students needed from me, and often I have failed.

What leadership and decency look like:

“When Rabbi Joseph Miller learned of the Squirrel Hill massacre, less than a mile from his own pulpit, he ordered the doors of his synagogue locked,” Franklin Foer writes. “Despite his congregants’ terror that they would be next, they recited the mi sheberach. They didn’t pray for their own protection; they prayed for the healing of others.”

A dear friend has just managed to let those of us who were concerned know through social media that she is well, despite hospitalization with a terrible health crisis. She begs people will vote in lieu of flowers.

There is no point trying to avoid the pain. It comes and it comes. We can deny our responsibility or face what comes with compassion and care. The best we can do is take steady, honest steps toward healing our beleaguered nation.


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