“How are we going to keep this from the kids?”
Greg and I were discussing last week’s massacre of 14 people in a San Bernardino facility that was being used for a holiday party and typically houses a California agency that provides support services to people with developmental disabilities.
When society’s most vulnerable people, those with disabilities and children, are involved or even seemingly threatened, it feels extra personal, and extra scary.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which a young disturbed man gunned down 20 little kids (6- and 7-year-olds!) and six adults in Connecticut, was three years ago this month. The public cries of “Never again” and “We have to do something” have long since been drowned out by an ever increasing number of shootings.
The Planned Parenthood clinic shooting had just happened the week before the California case, in nearby Colorado Springs, which added another slash in our beloved state’s sad record of shooting incidents (Columbine High, Aurora movie theater…).
The senselessness of such mass murders is numbing, and they’ve become so common that my husband and I typically don’t even discuss the events much at home other than to express the futility we feel when such dreadful acts are committed. And we never talk about such events around our kids.
We want to protect our boys even while knowing that the randomness of gun violence and the spread of terrorism are things we can never truly keep our children safe from.
I hate that my six-year-old tells me about lockdown practice at school in which students hunker down in darkened, locked classrooms to hide from an intangible, unknown fright. “No talking. Too loud!” he articulates, probably mimicking the teacher’s directives to his fellow kindergartners whose skill at being still and quiet is laughable.
My son, who has intellectual and language delays, gets the message that something horrifyingly wrong can happen to him in his supposed-to-be safe place.
I’m completely without words for what to say when (and it is indeed only a matter of when) my child overhears some conversation somewhere about one of these fearful tragedies that we all know will keep happening.
“It’s a thing, now,” Greg commented citing Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article that explains school shooting as a group-think outcome of a social process whereby each successive individual is kicked into action by his own threshold that consists of how many people have gone before until that person will decide to join the group. It’s like slow-moving riot behavior in which the people who join a riot, that is, those who react to and act along with other rioters, have very different impulses than the initiators who threw the first stone.
We now know the San Bernardino bloodbath was not the act of a lone young, male gunman as the threshold-driven violence theory would uphold. It didn’t happen at a school. Authorities are calling it terrorism.
No comfort there. I am still frightened to be bringing my children up in a country where sudden, indiscriminate violence is a significant fear. And since I can’t make sense of it, I don’t know how to help my children understand either.
According to a press release from the Association of Regional Center Agencies, the parent organization for the nonprofit Inland Regional Center where last week’s shooting took place, “The developmental disabilities community is a family, and in these times of crisis, we come even closer together.”
That is true. Folks with a loved one who has a developmental disability were all over social media immediately after the shooting because of the connection we share.
I believe connection is the only thing that can ultimately prevent and console us when senseless murders occur.
Aside from a combination of gun control, voting (at the polls and with our dollars), speaking out, improving mental health care and fighting terror, the only thing we can, we must, do is to love one another. I’m not talking in some Kumbaya peace chant kind of way.
I think we actually need to teach our children how to love. Teach them that respect for others is love. That being in integrity is love. Being kind is love.
We need to demonstrate how differences have no inherent meaning.
But more than that, we need to practice acting out of love ourselves and point out loving ways to respond as active, alternate choices for our kids.
When someone hurts our feelings, inelegant words trigger our pissed off-ness, our opinions differ, or we act imperfectly, we can take a quiet step back and remember that very little is about us personally, and we can throw love at every problem no matter it’s size.
Recently, someone close to me emailed me (again) a chunk of unsolicited advice and information that made me feel as though she thinks I’m dumb, or at least uninformed. I felt like she doesn’t trust me to make good decisions or like she thinks I’m trying to pull a fast one. I was upset. But rather than react, I absorbed. And I waited. I recalled the history of emotions at play in our relationship, and after a couple days, I was able to pour love over the harshness I felt and remember that my interpretation is just that. Her words are about her, not me. I was able to respond with love and compassion.
That kind of response may or may not come easily. But the behavior is essential to practice. Responding with love is essential to model and to describe to our children regarding even tiny things, like a simple email message.
Love is the antidote to hurt. Kindness, the balm for pain. A soft heart, the most powerful of all arms to protect against fury.
Every time I find myself frustrated and mourning the loss of innocents, and innocence, I will practice love harder.
It is Hanukkah, the season of bringing light into darkness. I hope you will join me.