The Crisis of School Shootings

According to CNN, in the United States there has been an average of one school shooting per week since January 2018. One. School. Shooting. Per. Week. I want to scream!!! And as horrible as that is, what I think is so much worse is that, as far as I can tell, we, the citizens of the US, have become immune to it. We are accepting this as a way of life now, making Oh-how-horrible comments and then moving on to what’s next in our lives?

Let me ask you something. Humor me for a moment. If I said to you, I am going to put a gun to your child’s head, to your grandchild’s head, to the head of some child you know, would you just ignore me? If I showed up at your house, a place where you believe your child is safe, gun in hand, would you ignore me? What if it were your child that was shot? The outrage of these shootings is being lost on the citizens of the United States, and I am not sure why. Are we so distracted by the insanity of the United States politics that we are not dialed in that children are being shot? Are we busy with entertainment TV that we think someone else will handle it? Are we, the masses who have not had a child shot, able to casually shake our heads and ignore the crisis that is our refusal to address these killings? 

And I know there are tons of people who want no part of the Second Amendment altered, but what they do not answer is that they DO want. Okay, you want to have free access to any and all guns. Fine. Now, what do you propose? What do you think we should do about children being shot? I cannot help but wonder if it were your child shot, lying on the floor of the cafeteria, bleeding all over the place, other children running for their lives, falling and tripping on the pool of blood seeping from your child, if you would think that the current gun laws are appropriate. 

And, just in case you are wondering, yes, I am fully aware that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. I know. I read the meme. But, at the risk of being completely moronic here, I believe that the people who kill people often do so with GUNS. They have access to guns, so they use them. I cannot imagine how much more obvious this could be.  People who want to be manicurists have to have a high school diploma, attend classes at a certified cosmetology school, work 300 hours under the supervision of someone who is already certified, then take and pass a test, all so they can paint people’s nails. Yet, the gun laws wink at requirements. Barely wink. 

And, yes I am aware that there are mental health issues to be addressed, but I am not sure why this issue is collapsed with school shootings and gun control. I am guessing that the pro-gun people want us to believe that the issue is a mental health issue not a gun control issue; but excuse me, I believe we have very aptly demonstrated that people with mental health issues can easily access guns, often from the homes of their family members who do not have diagnosed mental health issues. And, if you just do the logic of that, it rolls right back to the need for gun control. 

I wonder what would happen if every person who wants the Second Amendment upheld spent a year walking side-by-side with a family who has lost a child to a school shooting or with a family who has had a family member killed by someone with a gun. A year of sitting a breakfasts where the absence of that family member is felt, where the seat where the beloved used to sit remains empty.  A year of watching parents try to pull their lives back together, fruitlessly because they will never recover from their loss. A year of watching siblings flail through their lives, grief impossible to even put into words.  A year of sitting in classrooms, with teachers trying to teach children who are grieving the loss of classmates, scared to death that they are next. 

You think we don’t need gun control? I think you need your head examined! 

The Circle of Life

My 93-year-old mother lives in an assisted living facility that is around the corner from where my daughter and her family live. Because they are in such close proximity, my daughter and her family walk over to visit Gran fairly often.  My four- year-old granddaughter, Loretta, is both smart and observant; however, she hasn’t been told much about my mother’s declining health. My daughter is smart about how she interacts with her children and she fosters curiosity and independence in them, which carries over to how they see the world. Regarding my mom’s aging, we have answered the questions Loretta has had along the way and have explained things that are age related. For instance, we have said that sometimes when people get older, they have trouble hearing so it is important to look at Gran when you ask her a question and talk a little louder.  But, over the past three years, Loretta has watched while my mother went from being able to walk without aid, to having a walker, to spending most of the day in a wheel chair.

Recently my mother was found on the floor during the evening bed check. Concerned that she might be hurt, the nurse called the ambulance and we took her to the hospital. Miraculously, she was not hurt. She is tiny, maybe 4’8” tall, weighing 98 pounds, with a prosthetic hip that is not secure in place anymore, and severe osteoporosis. How she didn’t break anything in the fall is beyond any of us. We were in the ER all night long while she slept and we waited for the results of tests, but in the end, she was sent home. Miraculous.

Today Hubby and I took Loretta and her little brother to visit my mother and Loretta had a lot of questions about the fall.

“D” Loretta and her brother call me D and they call my husband Pop—“How did Granny fall?”

“You know, Loretta, we just don’t know.”

“Well, who found her??

“The nurse found her. She went in the room to check on her and she found her.”

“She just went in the room? Why?”

“Well, I think the nurses go in every night to check on all the people who live where Gran lives.”

“Did the nurse knock?”

“ Yes, I am sure she knocked, but she also probably went in after she knocked.”

We had the conversation a whole bunch of times, probably at least six different times, and it was essentially the same conversation each time. I could tell there was something she needed for the story to make sense to her but I wasn’t sure what. I am convinced that little kids experience a lot more than we realize, that they process a lot of loss in their lives, but that most grown ups just don’t pay enough attention to get it. 

When we visit my mom with the kids in tow, we don’t visit in her room, but in a common area that is called the Country Kitchen. We bring a sheet and put in on the ground and we have a picnic lunch. Part of the “lunch” is made of play food that Loretta packs from home. This day it included pasta made from a felt material and plastic broccoli. To supplement what Loretta brought, I packed apple slices and hummus. So there we were, my mother, my husband, the kids and me picnicking while Loretta was trying to gather the details of my mother’s fall.  At one point, I decided that maybe what was needed was a replay of what might have happened, so I took Loretta to my mom’s room and I asked her if she wanted to see how I think it might have gone. She eagerly nodded yes.

“Okay,” I said. “You wait in the room and I will go outside and I will be the nurse.”

I closed the door and then a moment later I knocked, and then entered as though I were the nurse checking on my mother.

“Hello, Anne, I just wanted to……oh my goodness, Anne!!! What are you doing on the floor!!! Oh, no!!!”

Then I turned to Loretta and said, “I am sure that what the nurse did after that was call the other nurse to come and wait with Gran while she called the ambulance. Like this, “Bea!!! Bea!!! Come quickly and stay with Anne! I am going to call the ambulance.”

I watched to see if this scenario was helping Loretta process the incident.

“Why didn’t she pick Gran up herself?” she asked after pondering the skit.

“Well, that’s a good question. The nurse didn’t pick Gran up herself because she wasn’t sure if Gran was hurt or not. If someone falls and gets hurt, you need to have special training to pick them up. The ambulance people have the special training, so she called them.”

“Oh. Was she hurt?” Loretta asked.

“No. It is hard to believe, but she wasn’t hurt.”

“But HOW did she fall?”

“We don’t know.”

“Was she trying to get to her walker and she fell?”

“Maybe, we just don’t really know for sure.”

This seemed to answer all of the questions for the time being. We visited with my mom for quite a while, making her pretend pasta for lunch. We served the pretend pasta with a side of real sliced apples and, in between culinary courses, we blew bubbles and danced and played. I was pretty sure that the conversation had run its course when all of a sudden Bea, one of the heroines in my skit, showed up. I took the opportunity to co-opt Bea into our conversation.

“Bea” I said, “Loretta and I were talking about the other night and we were just wondering if the nurses check on people every night.”

Bea, who caught on immediately, assured us, “Every night. We do what is called bed check every night. We check every room so that we know everyone is okay.” Bea is a dark woman, maybe 40 years old, with a smile that beams like sunshine. Her spirit is calm and welcoming, so talking to her is always reassuring to me.

Our family is at a pretty critical point in the circle of life. We are watching my mother, the last of her seven siblings; approach the end of her life, while my children are bringing new babies into the world. These new babies keep us on our toes. If you are not paying attention, you can miss the magic in conversations like the one Loretta and I had today. You’ll catch those typical milestones, the rolling over, the walking, the talking and all of that, but you will miss the magic of a child giving you a glimpse into the window of their world. And there is so much for us to learn if we pay attention and look at the world through a child’s eyes.

“But, D!!! ” I hear her little voice call me between eating slices of apple dipped in hummus.  “Where do the ambulance people live?”

Sigh. 

A Thank You and Good-Bye to 2017

I have attempted this blog more than a few times, all without much success. The end of 2017 leaves me feeling blessed, but also very reflective and introspective. Although, I am a firm believer in saying thank-you and good-bye to each year, this thank-you-and-good-bye blog has been a challenge. It turns out that 2017 was a big year for me: I changed jobs, gained and lost friends, my habits and hobbies are new or re-designed, and my family has grown.  It seems that I am now a completely different person than I was last year at this time.  And, as predictable as all those changes might have been, almost all of them took me by surprise.  I guess that is the way life goes sometimes.

 

So many of the changes made it easy to say farewell to 2017. For instance, I worked under so many different people in the past few years that saying good-bye to my previous job was a walk in the park. The people I love from that job are still in my life, so there were no bitter separations.   Saying so-long to a routine that included working two jobs with almost zero time to smell the roses, was easy. Instead, I now meander to my office two or three days a week, stopping first to see what the vegan deli has for lunch, then picking up flowers at the local grocery store, getting coffee at my favorite coffee shop and finally arriving at work just in time at 10AM. Since I leave somewhere around 3PM, I miss much of the traffic on the ride home. I love this new routine and it was pure bliss leaving that old craziness.

 

But there were difficult partings in 2017 as well. There was the sad good-bye of my mother’s ability to navigate her life. In the past year, she has lost so much of her memory and ability to function independently, and her health care now requires more from my brother and me. She sometimes doesn’t recognize me, doesn’t know where she is, or why she can’t go “home”.  This has been a sorrowful and heart-breaking process to watch.  

 

I lost a good friend this year and that was distressing. I am not sure of what happened between us, but whatever happened was carefully left unspoken. I have my completely reasonable and justified explanation and I am sure she has hers.  My description leaves me in the best possible light and I am sure hers does the same for her, but none of that matters. What matters, at least to me, is that the friendship was precious for the time it lasted and that I am grateful to have had the grace it afforded me at the time. As I said, I am not the same person I was last year this time. What all of these good-byes have in common are the thank-yous, and that is the part that buoys me through the difficult good-byes.  I have learned to practice gratitude and, having cried the tears I’ve cried, and felt the anxiety of all of those changes, I am left with gratitude and thanks. I am grateful to have worked at my previous job for almost two decades. I am thankful to have met so many wonderful kids and their families. The challenging students and families were a gift in disguise because I learned so much about myself..

 

I am so grateful to the people who are helping me navigate my mother’s new-normal. I have learned so much from her caregivers, they are my allies in caring for her. I am grateful to my cousins who give me that “we’ve-been-there-and-it-sucks” nod and have seen me through the tears of her forgetting. I am so indebted to my brother who has been our valiant protector and hero for years.  I now know how to be there for other people as they walk this journey and that is something I didn’t know at this time last year.

 

And although I am heart-broken from my lost friendship, I am grateful to have had that friend in my life for all these years.  I shall always remember every laugh, every embarrassing moment, the joys, the sorrows, the ups and downs, and everything in between.  I learned a lot about life from that friendship. That loss taught me that I need to both give and receive a certain level of loyalty with friends. For me that loyalty is bound to honor and respect and is not negotiable.  I am pretty proud about this and grateful for the chance to have had this discovery. As my mentor says  “it would be better to have no friends than to dummy yourself down with friends who do not deserve your loyal friendship.” I am a better person for having learned this lesson this year.

 

There was so much more to 2017, but these are the things for which I am -grateful and to which I am saying good-bye. This was not the kind of year that I would have designed, but it is the year I had. I am grateful to you, 2017, and, at the start of 2018, good-bye!

The Epidemic of Suicide

I have always hated Munch’s picture “The Scream”. I just cannot stand the feeling it provokes in me. It’s sad and disturbing and not-shake-off-able.  Last night the news reported that another young man from our local community was found dead. The prevailing thought is that this young man took his own life. This makes four suicide-deaths in our area in almost as many weeks – three of these young people were 18 years old or younger, one was a mere 25 years-old. The vision of Munch’s  The Scream came immediately to mind. I just wanted to scream when I heard the news. I wanted to hold my face and just scream “Noooooooooooooo” until I had no more breath to utter sound.

In our area, suicides are a growing epidemic and I cannot help but think there is a connection between these deaths, the day-to-day stress that families are feeling and the current political distress in our country. My experience is that both my democratic and republican friends are all feeling a collective sense of depression and hopelessness, even if it is for different reasons. I am not sure how we can tell kids that suicide is not an option when we don’t really have a lot options to offer ourselves, either personally or as a body of Americans.  Think about it. Today’s youth are bombarded with news of violence, incidences like the Neo-Nazi’s rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, of the Black-Lives-Matter movement and the backlash of that movement, of three-in-a-row destructive hurricanes, of overall increased concerns for the economy, or increased concerns about people losing access to health care to name just a few.

And none of this accounts for the additional high school specific issues that kids are dealing with every day – growing expectations of academic success, the competitive stress of positioning to get into a “good college”, fitting in, standing up to bullying, saying no to drugs, wearing the right outfits, playing the right sport, or the best instrument in band and so forth. The stress levels that kids experience is astronomical and we are doing precious little to reduce or even mitigate this stress. Instead we say, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Really? I have not heard one person- not one news commentator, not one podcaster, not one politician, not one financial expert sending out a message that says anything like, “Oh, don’t worry. This is just a temporary moment of distress for our country. It’s all going to be really great any minute now.” That is not the message being sent. The messages being sent are the kind that highlight the divisions and fractions, they highlight who’s right and who’s wrong, they name call, character assassinate and, in some cases, condone and justify violence and unrest. Do we think that because human beings are between the ages of 13-20 that they are not impacted by these messages? Are we crafting the message that the future is actually worth living?

I want us all to stop the mindless busyness that is the newest addiction in our country. I want us to take a day to create peace - close the schools and stores and businesses, have people gather so we can be together and comfort each other. I want us to breathe, practice mindfulness and for us to remember that every word we say to each other counts. I want us to re-learn the language of kindness and love.  I want to start a national campaign for young people knowing they are loved and valued, that they belong and where they see us living a future of peace and of hope. Where they look at what is possible and they want to contribute, versus looking ahead and permanently stepping off of the ride.  No one wants to hear of another death, another young person who took their life and wonder if they could have done anything to stop it. 

Walking Each Other Home

Walking Each Other Home

I think it was Ram Dass who said that we are all here just walking each other home.  This thought comes to me over and over these days as I struggle with my mother’s declining health. My mother, now 92 years old, has enjoyed really good health until recently. Slowly over the past two years, but more rapidly over the past three months, she has begun to experience increased memory loss and decreased mobility. It is heartbreaking to watch.

My brother and I are largely clueless about how to manage these issues with my mom. We’ve not walked this road before and the experience is like being two teenagers who decide to take road trip in the middle of the night. We have a car that works, we know the general direction we are headed, but we are missing the exact route, the car has no GPS, but we do have a paper map and are using that to plot the route. We can see as far as we can see out of the windshield, but that is nowhere near far enough for us to really and truly see the road ahead. Still, as long as we keep moving, we can see the road and that is something.

My cousins, whose mother was my favorite aunt and the person who taught me a lot of the important things in life, walked this path before me. My aunt passed away a number of years ago, but not without a slow and (at least for us) painful demise.  I can remember feeling furious at God over my aunt’s health. I felt so betrayed. She served him with, as the Catholic’s say, a glad heart; yet He didn’t take her peacefully in her sleep like He should have if He had been the all-powerful, all knowing Oz as I was taught in grammar school. And, even if He truly wasn’t all knowing and all-powerful, He could have just followed my advice. Goodness knows I offer it often enough to anyone who is listening.

These days when I get a concerned call from my mother’s assisted living nurse, one of the first things I do is call my cousins. They have nothing to say in terms of advice, and nothing to offer in terms of things we should do, but they have walked this path before me and that, in and of itself, is a pretty big gift. They have felt these feelings, have watched this similar demise, have felt the injustice of it all and, perhaps the best part, they love my mother like I loved their mother. There is some synchronicity in this circle of love that is soothing to me.

I think we cannot underestimate the value of having people in our lives who have walked the same road before us.  In fact, I think it is part of our obligation to be there for people who are experiencing what we have experienced before them pay-it-forward and all of that. I cannot think of anything that contributes more to people who are struggling, than knowing they are not alone in the struggle. I vividly remember people who have held my hand when I was struggling, and I remember vividly those who walked away. I also remember the feeling of belonging when someone held my hand through the struggle, as well as the feelings of loss and hopelessness when people who could have reached out walked away instead.  I am sure my brother and I will be pay-it-forward people.

So, here’s to a life where we all reach out whenever we can, and take a hand.  We are all here to just walk each other home, to be there for the people who we may not even have met yet, and for people who might not even know they will need to be walked home.  

In Remembrance of David Fischer       

In Remembrance of David Fischer                                                May 8, 2017

 

I found out last night that a former student, David Fischer, passed away three days ago. He is the fifth or sixth student from that graduating year that has passed away, just 8 years after they received their diploma. He was 27 years old. I cannot stand the thought of the loss of another student. Each time I hear of another death, it is surreal. It seems like it can’t really be happening, except there would be no reason for anyone to call and say that someone had died if they hadn’t, so I always know it is real.

As I think back on David, I realize that there is something sacred about remembering the deceased. There is something to thinking back to the last time you saw the person, what you knew to be true of that person, what you knew the person would do, or would never do, which people loved him and which people hated him  It all comes back in a heartbeat, all at one time, the memories flooding in like a wave.

I was one of the people who loved David dearly. I can remember him vividly. I would venture to guess that anyone who ever met David remembers him vividly.  One of my all time favorite kids describes him as “unapologetically himself”, which was so true. He was tall and slender, frequently wearing a bright pink sweatshirt from Victoria’s Secret. When he was in high school he stripped the color from his hair and then re-dyed it pink, which then washed out so it was white-pink. He used a lot of product, so his hair stood out as though it had a life of its own, refusing to listen to anyone, not unlike David himself, by the way.

David was also fairly talented with a curling iron and wore sparkly blue eye shadow, which he applied in a particular way, creating what we called his “signature eye.” One time he created his signature eye on a female classmate and it was so not her style that it looked really weird on her. She told him she hated it. He told her it didn’t look good because she was ugly. As you can imagine, the girl did not react well to this and drama ensued. David was not unkind, but he was unfiltered.  Those of us who loved him best suffer from that same affliction – unfiltered comments. Sometimes inappropriate, poorly timed, unfiltered comments. It takes one to know one.

Despite and maybe even because of this lack of filter, David had a way of getting into people’s hearts and they couldn’t help but love him.   One time a teacher sent David to the Assistant Principal’s office because he had plugged in his curling iron and,  

while waiting for it to heat up, he started re-applying his make up during an afternoon Study Skills class. The teacher thought he was off task and disruptive, while David argued that he had no work to do, his assignments were all completed and handed in to the teachers. Sending David to the office for being disruptive seemed like the biggest joke ever. He was six feet tall with white-pink hair, plus the pink sweatshirt, and the signature eye shadow, so his mere walking into the classroom was disruptive!!  The assistant principal changed his class so that he sat with another teacher who adored him and who, to this day says that he was one of her favorite kids of all time. When he graduated he gave her a portrait of himself as a drag queen as a parting gift, a gift she has to this day.

I don’t know what to say to David’s mother, but I am searching for words that bring her some comfort. She is an amazing mother. When we found out that David passed away, almost everyone commented on how lucky he was to have had a mother who not only loved him, but who also “really got him.” It took us a really long time to figure out that she was a big shot attorney. You couldn’t ever tell that from talking to her or from our interactions. With us, she was always just an involved mom who loved her son and who accepted him for who he was in the world. I feel like we all became better parents for having walked that journey with them, and for having had her as a role model who taught us radical acceptance.

We tell our students, “Once you are ours, you are ours forever”, and it may be the most important thing we ever tell them. It is so true. We mean it for each and every one of them. It’s personal for us that way. I haven’t seen David in a number of years now, which I regret. We’ve had so many students come and go in the almost twenty years that our team has worked at the school, that it is impossible to keep up with all of them. We hate that. We hate when we don’t see the alumni and when they don’t keep in touch, although we also understand that they have lives and that we were a part of their lives a long, long time ago now. Still, we worry about them like it was yesterday. I am not sure if that is the impact of working in a high school, if it is the impact of being middle aged, or being an Italian Catholic or a combination of all of it. I just know that I miss seeing them, and I fear that they might forget how much we love them.

So David, here’s to your white-pink hair, your signature eye shadow, your curling iron, your artistic style of weaving in and out of life. Here’s to our having walked along the same path as you, for the privilege it was to have known and loved you. I hope that you rest in peace and that you know that you are ours and will be ours forever.