Picking up the pieces1
This is such a bittersweet time for so many in our community. We have kids getting ready to graduate and for some, that means they will be entering junior high or high school and for others, it means they will be leaving for college in the fall. It is a time we should be celebrating our children. I know as a parent, so many of us are feeling the need to hold on tighter to our children in light of the recent tragedy in Isla Vista. We send our kids off to school each day confident that they will be safe and that we will be able to tuck them in again each night.
Last week, two days before Elliot Rodger took the lives of six students in Isla Vista and injured many more, my daughter’s elementary school went into lockdown for an hour because of a gunshot heard in the area. While the two incidents are unrelated and all of the kids at the school were okay, it was still distressing to know my child might be in danger as I heard helicopters overhead looking for a suspect. Our teachers did a fantastic job with the students and my twelve year old daughter came home saying “it was scary at first but then fine because we felt safe and we just passed notes back and forth as we waited”. Then she handed me the goodbye letter she wrote me in case anything happened which was difficult to read. At this point, my daughter was in great spirits but when I read the letter, I felt such sadness thinking about the Sandy Hook parents who did not have that same outcome and what it would have been like had I received this letter under different circumstances.
And then two days later, more students and families had their lives changed in an instant. I will send my older daughters off to college in two years and I get overwhelmed at the sadness I feel for these families as I imagine what it was like for them to get that phone call in the middle of the night that their child with their whole future ahead, was killed.
I have read the many articles and discussions that are taking place online about why the incident happened and what we need to do to prevent this kind of violence in the future. I know so many of us feel so helpless on where we go from here, as parents and as a community. How do we make any sense of this when we are talking with our kids. Who do we get angry at? Elliot? The guns? How do we explain it to our children?
We were sent this by a local mom, Lori Goodman whose husband has been working closely with the Isla Vista community the past few days and I love her answer to focus on what we do have power over: BEING KIND… I feel for his parents, as well as for the parents, families and friends of all the victims. Our entire community has been traumatized and everything else seems trivial. It’s bizarre to have what feels like a very personal, local experience splashed all over the national news. Because it’s so personal, the analysis I see all over facebook –about guns, about misogyny, about mental health care, all feel flat and empty. Here is what I think can be a positive response. Be kind. Be kind to the weirdos, the freaks, the people who seem to have no friends. Be kind to yourself and your family. Nothing, not even kindness, could have prevented this tragedy. All we can do is hug one another a little tighter, be grateful for one another and be kind.
While I personally would like to see changes in gun control, more focus on mental illness, more ways for students and teachers to feel empowered to ask for support when they see a troubled student, I also know the changes will not happen overnight. In the meantime, we need to do our part in our own homes with our own children. Communicate, stay involved, censor the shows your children are watching and the video games they are playing to help keep them from being exposed to so much extra violence, and reach out and ask for help when you need it. As a community, we need to rally around one another, show compassion and not place blame. We need to support the students and families as they process this tragedy and their loss. They not only lost friends and classmates, they lost their innocence… this tragedy took away that invincible feeling we have as teenagers and turned them into adults overnight.
Let’s take Lori’s advice as we start to move forward, rather than modeling hatred and anger, let’s show our children another way to heal. Show them how to reach out to kids in their own schools and offer support with simple gestures. Model kindness by how we talk about others. Explain how saying hello to someone who doesn’t always fit in can make that person feel like they matter. It’s not a solution but our kids are looking to us for guidance and teaching compassion is one way to start moving in a positive direction.