Yesterday morning was particularly beautiful as the sun broke upon the Wasatch mountains. The frigid February air brought a sharpness to the cool hues of blue, purple, and pink outside my bedroom window.
With the painful reality of a recent school shooting in Florida and a social media post hinting school violence in my very own school district the evening prior, my wife asked me this question in earnest:
“Are our children safe?”
The response I gave will come shortly, but I did not respond immediately. I paused. The surreal nature of my wife even asking the question was not lost on me. How did we get here? More questions rushed through my head. I couldn’t answer any of them. I struggled stringing together cohesive thoughts.
When my logical brain shuts down like that, my emotional brain takes over and forces me to feel all the feels.
The first feeling to rise was that awful discomfort of parental vulnerability. You know the feeling. It’s that bitter anxiety that rushes over us just at the thought of harm coming to our children, the utter helplessness.
My vulnerability was too sensitive, too raw, so my logical brain kicked back-in.
I had to rebound and evaluate the circumstances. The evidence. The truth.
The circumstances are that modern-day American culture and society are in a rough patch. The 24-hour news cycle, technology gone wild, and a polarized political system cloud almost anything that looks or sounds hopeful.
The evidence is that there has been significant human loss from school shootings in the United States. Tonight, real families will be staring into empty bedrooms where their precious children once slept.
The truth is, we are all looking for a path and a solution but the avenues to identify solutions tend to decay under heaps of despair, rhetoric, and the lack of leadership.
As my heart raced with these “logical” conclusions, my phone began pinging with alerts relentlessly.
I work in mental health and public school administration. My local community was experiencing a heightened level of stress for obvious reasons and the roles and responsibilities of dedicated educators and school leadership were going to be tested for sure. The stress, emotion, and thoughts rushing through my mind and heart almost became overwhelming.
Despite the rushes, I turned back to my wife, the mother of my children and said, “Yes, our children are safe. Today is gonna be a good day.”
As the words left my mouth, I felt naive, almost foolish. How could I honestly say that? I can’t predict the future. Then a peace came over me. I know I can’t predict the future–nobody can.
It occurred to me that despite the fears and stresses that can culminate in our lives, safety is a choice and state of mind. We simply cannot endure a constant wringing of our hands and fretting for the future. In that moment, the freedom from trying to predict the future helped me stay in the moment.
In moments of crisis, we all have a choice.
We can choose to rally with voices of a political agenda. We can choose to argue on social media. We can choose to stigmatize mental illness. We can choose to lose hope “in the system” and wallow.
In moments of crisis we can reach out to one another. We can look our children in the eyes and tell them we love them. We can speak respectfully to one another. We can skip the political chest-thumping and we can unite on behalf of the families that have lost their children.
Are our children safe?
Today, I have learned the answer to that question all depends on the choices we make, (and I’m not the only one).
In the last 24 hours, I’ve witnessed plenty of choices people have made to help keep our children safe:
- A teenage student chose to report actions of a peer that appeared strange and potentially dangerous to a responsive adult.
- Law enforcement chose to act swiftly and safely to protect all parties involved.
- School leaders chose to share the information to their community as quickly and as accurately as they could.
- Teachers chose to show up to class with smiles and routines and compassion.
- School principals chose to support student concerns and report the safety procedures of their respective buildings to parents.
- Mental health professionals chose to offer their training in stress and crisis management.
- Parents chose to hug their children a little tighter and a little longer than usual.
- Children chose to filter misinformation and identify accurate information buzzing through texts and social media.
- Community members chose to voice their concerns for student safety.
So, are our children really safe?
Yes, our kids are safe because their safety is our only choice.