Tuesday, February 28, 2012

many questions, no answers.

To think, "It could never happen here" is something we tell ourselves in times of distress in order to seek comfort and assurance. But safety and security are, unfortunately, things that are never guaranteed to us, and we should not take for granted the days we have that involve peace.

Yesterday morning, 17-year-old T.J. Lane opened fire at Chardon High School in the small community of Chardon, Ohio. Five students from the school, whose population is just over 1,000, were shot, and two have since passed away. (Update, 1:06 p.m.: a third student has reportedly just died.) Lane was a student at a nearby school.

It's unfortunate that it takes tragedies like this to urge people to reflect on larger issues at hand. Are there enough social services in our secondary schools to help and support our troubled students? What happens outside of the schools affects them as much as what happens inside of school too, and we have to ask ourselves whether teachers and administrators understand that and are adequately prepared and equipped to handle that. How can we ensure the safety and well-being of our children if we ignore the problems that affect their daily lives and, in turn, affect their performance inside the classroom. As it was noted during Jenny's and my reporting for NPR: it would be tough to be an expert at calculus while family problems tore apart the rest of life. While students are spending the majority of their days in school, they spend just as much time--if not more--dealing with problems at home, which inevitably trickle over into their school lives.

The shooting at Chardon High School recalls horrific memories for many of shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech. We have to ask ourselves also: what do we do? How do we respond?

Unfortunately, there is no answer to this that could address every person who feels compelled to act out with such violence. A Chardon student expressed this morning on the Today Show that he wished it would go away, and that it would be best to stop talking about it and hope that it dies down. It's an understandable desire--to wish it all away, but I think we need to talk about it (not sensationalize, but really talk). These tragedies are never easy to "make sense of," but what discussions can achieve are communal healing, messages to society to take note of what we may be ignoring, and an examination of how we treat others. After all, we have to remember: this wasn't a gunman; he is still a child.

And, unfortunately, there is no way to know if your child is safe when you send him or her off to school in the morning--which is terrifying. Just listening to the emotional addresses by the Chardon superintendent and the county sheriff, you can hear how deeply this shooting has hurt the community. Even in what feels like the safest of places, there is no way to know if you'll be safe. There's no way to know if the people you love will be safe. Joan Didion notes the uncertainty best in The Year of Magical Thinking: "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."

Hug your kids. Hug your parents. Hug your grandparents and cousins and friends and partners. If there's one thing we should all remember, it's to never take our loved ones for granted.

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