In life we all have days where we will always remember exactly where we were and exactly what we were doing when an event happened. For each of us those events will arise out of our own personal experiences – a baby was born, someone died, your best friend got married – and the collective state, national or world experience – the Challenger disaster, the OKC bombing, 9/11 and so one.
One of those days for me was 4/20/1999. One day after the 4th anniversary of the bombing. I remember exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing. I was a 23-year-old new mother, sitting at home on the couch nursing my 4-week-old baby when the news came on and started describing the horrors of Littleton, Colorado. I remember looking down at the helpless little girl in my arms and wondering about the world she would grow up in.
Fast foreword almost 19 years to February 14, 2018. It was a day that seemed like any other day to me as I’m sure it did to you as well. I got up, I went to work, and dealt with the normal chaos that makes up my day. At some point in the day, I heard about the shooting and the brutal deaths of 17 people. Unfortunately, a week after this incident as I write this column, I have to look up the statistics about this shooting. Not because I don’t care and or because it doesn’t affect me, but simply because school shootings have become too common for me to remember the statistics associated with them all.
I cannot tell you how unbelievably sad that makes me feel. On a day that is supposed to be about celebrating the ones you love; 17 people lost their lives in a senseless act of violence – 3 adults and 14 children gone in the blink of an eye. I don’t know a single one of them personally, but through the many organizations I’m involved with and friendships, I am within 6 degrees of separation from them and I feel the weight of their loss as I write this article.
Since the latest shooting, I’ve seen the media and social media explode with the blame game – guns caused it, mental health caused it, a bad childhood caused it and on and one and on. At the same time, I have seen everyone have a solution for the problem – gun control, better mental health counseling, parents need to be more involved, etc.
I have no idea what caused it and I do not know the solution. What I do know is that something has changed in our society, for lack of a better description we have an IT. We need to figure out what IT is, what caused IT, how to fix IT, and how to keep IT from coming back.
IT seems like the appropriate term because solving the riddle of this new normal reminds me of Stephen King’s novel IT. In the novel, the reader follows the experiences of 7 children growing up in Maine as they deal with their fears and phobia’s that manifest through a dark force living in the town. The novel is split into two-time periods – childhood when the children are victimized by the force, and again as adults when they come back to town to defeat the force.
The 7 children are referred to as the “Losers Club” which is made up of: the fat kid, the sick kid, the stuttering kid, the abused kid, the 4-eyed class clown, the black kid, and the Jewish kid. Each of these children represents stereotype that has often been the target of a bully in society, in the book, in the 80’s when King wrote the book, and the same or similar groups of kids are targeted today. In the book the children fall victim to Pennywise the Clown as he entices them into his world by playing on their fears and uses their fears to harm them by transforming into their worst fears and killing others in town.
Somehow the 7 kids use their “loserness” to survive Pennywise and make it into adulthood. But make no mistake the children do not survive without scars and some 25 years later the 7 Losers come back together to save the town when the darkness of IT wakes up again and starts to prey on children in their town again. The 7 children use their victimhood and life experiences to stop Pennywise for 25 years and the strength of their life experiences and love for each other to defeat him again when he reawakens. Mr. King is able to tie up all the loose strings in the story and the kids overcome their challenges, beat the bad guy and move forward with bright futures.
In real life things rarely end so nicely. The kids who are teased for being the “the fat kid, the sick kid, the stuttering kid, the abused kid, the 4-eyed class clown, the black kid, and the Jewish kid” and so on, rarely seem like they are able to band together to defeat the dark force of society that holds them back. Just like the kids in the books, the kids in real life that are targeted by the bully are often abused, neglected, homeless, sick or victimized in some way that they don’t let others see. As many times, the bully is also a victim who has found his/her own strength in victimizing others with the hope that they won’t be victimized again.
On days like February 14, 2018, I wish for a story book ending of people banning together for good to overcome evil and to save the day. But before we can do that we have to identify what the IT is that is affecting our people. Unfortunately, no one seems to know the cause, only the symptoms of its existence.
Logic tells me that all the things we like to blame are individually not the problem. A gun is just a hunk of metal until its loaded, pointed at someone and the trigger is pulled. People live with mental illness and survive abuse every day without killing or injuring someone. Just as others survive being bullied for their appearance, race, religion, income, or handicap, being bullied alone is not what causes the violence. The problem is something more, something bigger and requires all of us together relying on our collective life experience, hurts, wrongs, misdeeds, injuries and joys to solve.
The only common denominator that I can find in all of these acts of violence, especially school shootings, is the lack of hope. When we have hope to hang onto we have a reason to believe that things will get better – a new job, friends, family, school, or whatever – the possibility of tomorrow and something better exists. When we have no hope left all the light is gone. If you ask me why school shootings happen, it doesn’t matter if the date is 4/20/1999 or 2/14/2018, I think the children have lost hope. When we find a way to keep hope alive, for the those who hurt the most among us, I believe things will change.
Until then I leave you the words of Maya Angelou – “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Invite one to stay.” #ChooseHope