It’s been a tragic week. Two school shootings—one in Texas, one in Kentucky—resulted in two dead children and at least 15 wounded. They were the 10th and 11th school shootings this year.
As in 2018.
As in the last 25 days.
Let that sink in for a moment.
There have been at least 50 shootings on school property since the school year began in August and Every Town Research records 283 school shootings just in the last five years. I just can’t wrap my brain around these figures. As a mother of three children it terrifies me how pervasive these shootings have become. And when I stop and reflect on these facts, really absorb the knowledge that we live in a country, in a day and age where my children cannot go to school with the confidence that they will be safe, I feel responsible.
When I was 15 I had two very close friends. We did everything together. Then one day my two friends, we’ll call them Shannon and Karen, got into an argument . . . I don’t even remember about what and I’m certain it was something trivial. One day soon after I sat with Shannon in the lunch room. When Karen came to sit with us Shannon got up and moved to another table. Uncertain what to do, I got up and moved to sit with Shannon. Karen, feeling determined not to be iced out, followed. This cycle continued two more times before I, feeling caught in the middle and unsure what to do, hesitantly said to Karen, “Maybe you should go sit somewhere else today.”
That was the beginning of the end of our friendship. Eventually she began to hang out with a different crowd. A year later she attempted suicide by jumping off of an overpass onto a highway. She survived, but the fall left permanent damage to her spine and legs.
I have no doubt there were a number of things that led to her feeling so hopeless that she tried to take her life, and logically I know that my slight was not the sole cause of those feelings. However, I had turned my back on her. She needed a friend, someone to love her, and I wasn’t there. Why? Because I didn’t want my other friend to be mad at me. Fitting in was more important than loving a fellow human being.
When I look at the headlines, when I read the statistics about the violent epidemic infecting our schools and risking my children’s lives I feel responsible. While we don’t know the exact motives of the two shooters from this week, history has shown us that the majority of these tragedies occur at the hands of broken, hurting, lonely people. Yes, mental illness often plays a role, and yes, I believe stronger gun control is needed. But at the core of most of these shootings are human beings who felt they had no other choice.
Human beings who felt they had no one to turn to for help because they were used to being overlooked, ignored, and left out.
Human beings who felt they had a right to take the lives of others because they had lived in anger for so long it festered, bubbled, and turned into a toxic, blinding rage.
Human beings that were so consumed by their brokenness they lost their compassion for life.
How they each got to this place of hopelessness and rage may look different, but I know it didn’t happen overnight. That road was made up of hundreds of interactions, hundreds of decisions other people made, hundreds of slights, hundreds of hurts. And I feel responsible.
I was not a bully in high school. I never picked on other kids, and in fact, had my fair share of teasing I endured. But I also never stuck my neck out. In my fear of being a target, I never went out of my way to seek out the kid sitting alone at lunch and sit with him. I never spoke up when I heard others talking about a friend behind their back or teasing a kid in class. I turned the other way when I saw kids on the bus stealing another boy’s backpack and dumping it out.
High school terrified me. It often felt like a dog-eat-dog world and all I wanted to do was survive. But in my quest to blend in and fly under the radar I failed to stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I failed to be a friend to Karen, and who knows how many others.
As a parent, I am determined not to let my children make the same mistakes. It is not enough for them to be “nice kids” who don’t pick on others. I have to teach them to seek out the lonely boy at lunch and sit with him; to be bold and stand up for the girl who is being teased. I have to talk with them about how they can be a friend, even when it costs them something, and to love everyone, even those who are hard to love.
I can’t go back in time and change my actions that day in the lunch room. I can’t erase what happened this week in Texas and Kentucky or take away the pain of the parents, students, and teachers whose lives will never be the same. But I can raise children who know they have a responsibility to kindness and love, a responsibility to stand-up for those who have been cut down, and stand out for speaking truth, instead of trying to blend in.
My three children alone won’t be able to end school shootings. But what if?
What if every parent felt responsible? What if we all decided it wasn’t enough to have “nice” kids, that we had to raise radical agents of kindness? What if we all felt keeping our children safe began by teaching them to love the outcast and befriend the lonely? What might that look like?
“And I will answer, ‘When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing help to me.’” – Matthew 25:45