Category Archives: Memories

Another School Shooting — What now?

Maybe it’s the faces of hundreds of third, fourth, and fifth-grade students intruding into my mind’s eye? Maybe it’s their voices filled with joy, wonder, laughter, giggles, and delight as well as questions, fears, disappointments, sorrows, and hurts reverberating in my ears? Maybe it’s just them – children being children full of vitality, spontaneity, curiosity, vulnerability, and innocence all the while flexing and testing their limits of influence and control in and over their world? Maybe it’s just my memories – cherished memories – of those children and my experiences with them juxtaposed with the horror of 19 children just like them being senselessly, viciously gunned down that claw and rip into my heart today?

At this moment the lives of these 19 precious children of Uvalde, Texas, feel just as real to me as the hundreds with faces and names whom I experienced and often embraced, literally and figuratively, in my years as a school counselor. My sense of loss and grief is no less real. The loss and grief borne by their parents, family members, and community friends is unfathomable.

Even as I grieve the senseless loss of our children, I can’t escape asking, “How am I, are we, complicit? What have we, as a people, done or failed to do that makes us all complicit in their deaths? Will we once again point our fingers at a single, mentally ill, emotionally disturbed man – not much more than a child himself – and absolve ourselves of any culpability? Will we again, bemoan the abhorrent level of gun availability and lack of gun regulation in our nation railing against our government’s inaction and questionable, if not corrupt, lobbying practices? Will we continue to ensconce ourselves in our polar political ideologies and do nothing, claiming powerlessness?

Or will we garner the moral courage to come together regardless of ideology to stand up and speak out with such fervor as to truly initiate change on behalf of our children’s lives and the common good with both efforts to address our national mental health crisis and our epidemic of gun violence. I can’t help but believe that we, as a people, and a nation, are at a crossroads. I am reminded of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. After decades of increased gun violence and school shootings, will we finally do something different? Or will we continue to spiral down into greater national insanity? We, the people, hold the answer.

Pull up, Level off!

I lay in bed this morning way too early to be awake, unable to go back to sleep, and taking a nosedive into a shit storm of shame and fear – to use Brene’Brown’s vernacular. Self-talk was descending, once again, into Why did you. . . why didn’t you. . . you should have known. . what’s the point?  During all that, I heard, “Pull up, level off!” We know the scene. The plane is going down and someone in the cockpit yells “pull up, level off.” Disaster is averted, and all ends well. Well, at least the plane lands and all appear physically intact.

Pull up, Level off!

The storm of shame and fear has been ongoing for several days alternating from tornadic intensity to relative calm. I’ve done the work — several years of it in fact many years ago — addressing the obvious anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts as well as the lurking, menacing feelings of shame, fear, anger, not good enough, etc. Yet, in some moments of conflict, personal fallibility, and disappointment, I find myself pommeled by the storm, again. I suspect all of us humans experience some levels of shame and fear from time to time, and I wonder if those of us with a long history of shame, fear, anger – all that stuff we don’t like to acknowledge or talk about – and subsequent mental health issues are more prone to the storms. That’s a hard reality for me.

At any rate, I do know the storm drill, and it does require pulling up and leveling off. Although, I had never thought of it in those terms. Pull up, resist and reverse the downward spiral of self-talk. Level off with some truths of my humanity such as I am human. I am both capable and fallible, I am enough and lacking at times. I am loved and loving. I am courageous and fearful.  I am a both/and. Fly out of the storm. 

For me, flying out is usually a bumpy, doable ride often made easier by sharing with someone I trust who will listen with empathy, compassion, and perhaps shared vulnerability. Heaven help us if we truly are alone in our experiences of the shame, fear, anger storms. Judgement and catastrophizing are not helpful – I’ve already done enough of that myself. Guidance for any next steps may be helpful.

As I said, I have done lots of work gaining insights into my shame, fear, anger, etc. Unfortunately, insights don’t necessarily eliminate the occasional storms. In this current storm I have been drawn to the image of a six-year-old little girl alone outside hiding, crying, trembling, and clinging to the corner of the school building. 

I say image because I experience this memory as if I am above it, watching it unfold. It was in the spring and our first-grade classes were dismissed at noon for Roundup Day – an afternoon for next year’s first graders to come register for school. I did not know what I was supposed to do to get home. The usual routine, walking home with my older sister or Mama picking us up, was not possible. My sister was still in class, and Mama was not there. I became a small speck on the yellow brick wall.

Someone found me and my teacher just hugged me. Surely, she said some things, but the scene I watch is silent. She took me back to the classroom, brought me a lunch tray, and let me show the rising first-graders around when they began to arrive. When Mama came to pick us up, my teacher told her what had happened. Again, from above I watch as Mama gives me a finger jabbing “tongue lashing” right there in the school breezeway in front of my sister, my teacher, and anyone else that was passing by. Mama grabbed my arm and walked-dragged me to the car continuing the scolding, finally with sound, “You should have known. . .” I still have no idea what I should have known.

As the current shame and fear storm has punched the “play” button on this memory, perhaps for the first time ever, I have connected viscerally, with the fear and shame felt as a child so long ago. Even though I lived in the shadows of those feelings for decades, it is painful to imagine the impact of these feelings on that little soul.

Now for the bumpy, but doable, ride flying out of the storm. I am human. I am enough. I make mistakes. I can and will own my mistakes. Mistakes do not define who I am. I am not a mistake.  

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