White Fragility in Colorado

As a member of the board of trustees at Jefferson Unitarian Church, I have been assigned homework. I am reading the book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. It has been eye-opening, to say the least. 

One little taste of lesson-learning for me was this: When did women get the right to vote in the U.S.? It was in 1920, right? Isn’t that what I learned in history class? Nope. White women got the right to vote in 1920. Black women could not vote until 1965. Perhaps that was covered later, during lessons on the Civil Rights Movement, but I know for damn sure that I was not explicitly taught that “white women” got the right to vote in 1920, just “women.” When people talk about women getting the right to vote, they speak of the white experience as though it were the whole experience.

This was the beginning of exploring throughout the book all the ways our society has been set up from the outset to be advantageous to whites and disadvantageous to blacks. And because our society was/is set up to be white supremacist, as a white kid, it was impossible for me not to grow up racist. True, I was raised in a home where my white mother washed my white brother’s mouth out with soap for repeating the n-word after another kid used it. I was told that everyone was equal, and consciously, I believed that.

But until last Saturday’s reading, if someone had asked me when women got the right to vote, I would have earnestly said 1920 and believed I was right. I mean, if someone had said, “What about black women?” I might have said something stupid, like “Oh, yeah. That.” But my first response would have said a whole lot.

The book talks a lot about how we have been taught that being racist makes us bad people, and obviously, when you’re talking about discriminatory and violent racism, it does. Closer examination shows that we are all racist, and that whites, having been raised in a white supremacist society, have been utterly inculcated in white supremacy–not in that we all consciously believe that whites are superior, but we believe our experience is the universal experience in America. It’s the only experience worth talking about. When we are confronted with the unconscious manifestations of our racism, we become defensive. In our rush to deny our racism (because being racist makes us bad and we want to be good), we push away every opportunity to grow and become less racist.

This incident at Colorado State University is a perfect example. A group of white students at CSU started out putting a charcoal mud mask on their faces, just being silly. (I almost just wrote “students,” because “white” is the default, right? I had to correct that; I’ve got a lot of learning to do.) Then they posted a picture on Instagram with a caption that said “Wakanda forevaa” with the crossed-arm salute from Marvel’s Black Panther. Poof! What was a charcoal mask was transformed into blackface.

The father of one of the students had this to say: “She has been so persecuted over this (that) her life at CSU has become almost intolerable…In the course of her being labeled this white racist, she has become a victim herself.”

That student, Leana Kaplan, wrote, “The damage done to me is way out of proportion to an act of poor judgment during a moment of silliness.

“Again, this is not to compare this damage to the life-long impact of racial prejudice. I’d like to say to those who have been offended, it is unfair to conclude that an awful photo is evidence of an awful person. If progress is to be made in the battle against racism, the full spectrum of sensitivity must include not creating any more victims.”

Here’s the thing: Her participation shows that she is a white racist. I’m a white racist. If you’re white, I’m 99.9 percent sure you are, too. How can we not be when we have, despite whatever our parents have said and done, grown up in a society based upon an erroneous belief in our supremacy?

What if, instead of being awful to Leana, all us white folk looked at her “act of poor judgment” as evidence that we still have a lot of work to do? You know, stuff like teaching that white women got the vote in 1920 and black women in 1965. It’s just history. It’s not about judging. It’s just about acknowledging that white history is not universal history. Then, what the heck, we can include every aspect of the black experience in history lessons chronologically, like we do the white experience, instead of isolating it as if it wasn’t an integral part of American history. It’s one of a million ways we can acknowledge that America was and still is structured to benefit white people. 

Don’t believe it still is? Look at these two pictures of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. 

All those white folks you see were steeped in the idea that the white experience is the universal experience. The intentional codification of white supremacy was not a particular focus of their education, though its influence is significantly woven into every moment of U.S. history. Without this perspective, how clearly can they even see white supremacy in the laws and structures of our country, much less feel intensely motivated to dismantle it? After all, they are busily taking care of white folks’ issues, which must be everyone’s issues, right? Because if it’s a white concern, it must be a universal concern…

What if we could step back and agree that Leana is not an awful person? She is a person showing the influences of an awful system. Maybe if she and her father weren’t so busy trying to prove that she’s a good person (I imagine she probably is), they could help us see how all “good white people” can still be racist. Then we white folks could really start doing the hard work of dismantling racism. (I almost wrote, “Then we all could start doing the hard work of dismantling racism.” I’m pretty sure black folk and other people of color have been working on this a good, long time. Like I said, I’ve got a lot of learning to do. Do you?)

Posted in Life, the Universe, and Everything, Politics | Leave a comment

My Heroes

During the summer, my church has congregants speak in the pulpit about a summer theme. Last year was North Stars, the things that guide us. This year is heroes, and our minister asked me to speak this morning. I’m posting the content of that speech. At the bottom is the link to the minister’s homily afterward. (It says the speaker was Rex Nelson, but it was me 🙂 )

First, I’d like to say that I wish my heroes, chosen before last Sunday, weren’t so apropos this week. Three mass shootings in seven days.

As others who have stood in this pulpit before me in the last few weeks have mentioned, the temptation to speak of heroes as larger-than-life is tempting. We think of fictional characters or historical figures whom we’ve come to know through hagiographic biographies. But this summer’s focus on heroes specifically directs us to an idea expressed by comedian Jim Carrey when he won the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy. “Heroes,” he said, “are people who remind us of our virtues.” I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I realized that some of the most heroic people I have known were just children when the need to be heroic was thrust upon them. That’s right. When they were just teenagers, an often ridiculed group–millennials–reminded me of some of the most important virtues in all of us.

April 20, 1999 was a typical school day when one of my students, an 11th grader, left the tech lab to come ask me a question in my classroom. She was walking along, chatting with a friend, and when popping sounds came from farther down the hall, they both assumed someone had set off firecrackers. It was spring, after all, and a time ripe for senior pranks. When my student felt a burning sensation sear through her calf, she thought she had been hit by a firecracker. She fell and stayed on the floor to inspect the wound.

Her friend, however, was looking past her, down the hall, at the source of the popping. When she stopped long enough to grab my student’s hand, pulling her from the floor, and forcing her to run out the nearest door, she knew they were fleeing gunfire. She also knew they were in range, because my student had been shot. Still, this girl paused and risked her own life to save another on a day that would leave 13 people murdered, 2 dead by suicide, and 24 injured.

In the years to come at Columbine, I would watch similar scenes play out in other ways over and over again. Immediately after the shooting, we finished the school year at another high school, and one of my classrooms was near a spring-loaded door that slammed sharply when anyone came or went through it. The first few times it happened, my kids immediately dropped to the ground. This was the first time I saw children, traumatized and broken, reach past their own suffering to soothe others. Kids who were shaken to the core lifted classmates who had dissolved into tears off the floor, offering hugs and soft words of comfort.

As the next year passed, I saw kids who were struggling with their own suicidal ideations seek counseling – not for themselves first, but for friends whom they worried might be further down that path than they were, themselves. I saw kids whose anger and frustration over the unfairness of everything we’d been through yell and swear at classmates only to have those outbursts met with hugs and affirmations that it was okay not to be okay. Well…many times, anyway. Sometimes the exchanges got heated and hurtful, but even those passed with forgiveness. Life was just too uncertain to waste it on anger.

Time and again, they reminded me that we need to hold each other through life’s fragility. Students emotionally broken and bloody stopped to take each other’s hands and pull each other safely through the trauma. More often than you might expect, that exchange, that giving and receiving of support, occurred between students who didn’t know each other, or maybe even really didn’t like each other before the shooting.

For me, it wasn’t just heroic to offer help or a hug or affirmation. I saw that it was heroic, too, to accept that help. To be vulnerable. Do you remember being a teenager? The constant fear of judgment? The worry that, in some way, whatever way, it wasn’t safe to be you? Can you imagine navigating that minefield having experienced a trauma so deep that often–very often–you simply couldn’t control the way your emotions poured out? Or maybe you did have to do that. Children experience all kinds of trauma in their lives that never makes the news. Maybe you empathize all too well. Maybe you, too, were a hero very young–even if you never saw yourself that way

I suppose the kids at school had a certain advantage in having shared their trauma with nearly everyone else around them, but still…there is a temptation to stay on the floor and succumb to our wounds. It takes a certain blind trust to reach up and take a hand offered in help, especially if you don’t have a history of trust in that hand. And yet time and time again, they took the help that was offered, and later paid it forward to someone else who’d fallen. 

Day after day, I saw heroic selflessness, compassion, and perseverance from children who would have had their plates full if all they’d had to do was get through the normal course of adolescence. 

They carried this with them into adulthood. One of my students, Luke, who graduated in ‘99 was determined never again to feel helpless while others faced danger. He became a Navy Hospital Corpsman, a medic. His bravery in administering aid, even under enemy fire, earned him a Bronze Star. In 2007, a rocket-propelled grenade ended his military service and his life. To this day, Marines in need of medical treatment can get it at the Charles Luke Milam Clinic in Camp Lejeune, NC, named in his honor. He was not the only ‘99 grad to lose his life in the service of his country.

Other students have also found ways to serve as a direct result of the trauma they experienced. In the summer of 2012, a group of mostly strangers trooped excitedly into a movie theater in Aurora to see the midnight showing of the latest installment of Batman. I’m sure there are plenty of stories of heroism in those immediate minutes of gunfire that left 12 dead and 70 injured. I don’t really know those stories. The story I do know is that several former Columbine students, then in their early 30s, got together and said, “We had each other. Those people are strangers. How will they find each other? How can we turn our journey into hope for them?”

This was the beginning of a group called The Rebels Project, named after the Columbine High School mascot. It started with a small private Facebook group and monthly face-to-face meetings between survivors of the Aurora shooting and survivors of the shooting at Columbine. Our kids were still reaching out their hands to lift others up. Sometimes, these meetings brought home that Columbine folks still needed an occasional hand up themselves. The work wasn’t finished. To this day, there are times I go there to dump whatever baggage of my own that has been dug up by a news story or an insensitive acquaintance.

The Rebels Project Facebook Group now has 1,200 members, survivors of mass shootings from as close as Littleton and as far away as Australia. Every day, messages come through from people seeking support, and fellow survivors are always there to provide it, no matter how much they are struggling themselves. I have watched victims wander into that group barely able to articulate what happened to them and become, not just survivors, but leaders. They become the ones to offer wisdom gleaned along the way, either from personal experience or from words offered to them in the group years ago that became touchstones to be passed along again. Once a year, the leaders of The Rebels Project–no longer just Columbine survivors, but other survivors as well–work together to create an annual gathering. Group members travel from across the country to lift others and be lifted.

How can I do anything but follow their example? Even before all of these extraordinary kids graduated, Columbine staff members, including me, began reaching out to schools that came after us. The first was a letter from the staff of Columbine High School to the staff of Santana High School, which experienced a shooting in 2001.

From that point on, if we heard about a school that experienced a shooting (and you’d be surprised how often you don’t hear) Columbine’s staff reached out. Sometimes the other school reached back, but more often, they didn’t. My biggest frustration was how often bureaucracy in the other school district impeded our ability to speak directly to the teachers we hoped to help. 

The perseverance our students had demonstrated led us to never quit trying. Persistence meant that I would eventually be able to do things like engage in an email exchange directly with the chair of the English Department at Virginia Tech after their shooting, which she said was uniquely helpful. It was good to talk to someone who “got it.” I was grateful for the chance to offer a hand up. 

The example my former students set has taken me to places like Newtown, CT and Parkland, FL, other places with schools that have experienced shootings, where teachers seek assurance from someone farther down the road that they and their students will survive, maybe even thrive. I carry with me the virtues my students reminded me of–the importance of compassion and perseverance. I share with those teachers the necessity of forgiveness. Not of the shooters. That’s deeply individual, and I have never felt that was my place. I tell them to forgive each other as they blunder through the trauma together. I tell them they will have to rely on each other to get through it.

Those years of seeing heroism in every kind of kid, from overachiever to at-risk, informed my teaching for the rest of my career. It led me to see every kid as a possible hero. It meant I was much less likely than before to assume a student’s defiance was a lack of self control, and I came to look for possible sources of trauma. Instead of assuming the kid could “get a grip” if they simply wanted to, I wondered how I could best support that child in surviving and thriving. And then I persevered in trying to make that happen. It led me to tell my students on the first day of class every year: I have good news and bad news. The good news is I have unshakable faith in you. The bad news is I have unshakable faith in you.

I remember a student once screaming at me in the hall, “Why don’t you just give up on me? Everyone else does!” How could I? The kids of 1999 and the immediate years after had rendered me incapable of giving up on him. I don’t give up on myself, either. That’s what made it possible to stop berating myself for my PTSD symptoms and start taking the anti-anxiety medication I initially resisted for fear of being “weak.” There are times it’s been a lifesaver for me.

I still keep in touch with a lot of my students from those years. I know the toll the shooting took. I know the strength they found in spite of it. They are my heroes.

Link to homily

Posted in Columbine, Life, the Universe, and Everything | 3 Comments

To Build or Not to Build

I know we’re living in an either/or world these days: Either you’re liberal or conservative; either you think abortion is OK on demand whenever or you believe it’s never justified; either you’re completely pro-gun or anti. Now, in Jeffco, everyone is talking about whether the district is considering rebuilding Columbine High School because of security issues or because the building is in bad shape. Just like all those other either/ors, the answer is both. Just like all those other either/ors, it deserves more nuanced and complex treatment.

Because the school district sent out an email that addresses the security issue, let’s start there.

Back in 1999, as we were all reeling from the shooting, simply trying to figure out what the hell had just happened to us, there was some talk of demolishing the school building and constructing another. There was talk of changing the school’s name. There was a lot of talk, among we survivors and those on the outside—talk among the groups, but not much between them.

I was one of the survivors who felt very strongly that we should keep our building and our name. In fact, one of Jeffco’s school board members was also a member of my church, so I opened my church directory, called him at home, and made an impassioned plea: The boys had planted bombs. They’d tried to bring the building down. They tried to destroy everything Columbine was. Please don’t give them what they wanted!

While many other survivors agreed, mine was not the only view held by those in our group. Many wanted it gone, the painful reminder erased. This was not, by the way, the “wrong” reaction. In our world of neat little either/ors, both views were utterly valid.

In the end, though, the side in favor of keeping the building won, with one exception: The library where the majority of children died was demolished. It had been above the commons area, so over the next year or so, the floor of the library was removed, creating an atrium, and a new library was built off the back of the school  in honor of those we lost. Even this decision was not without controversy, but it seemed the best compromise. At the beginning of the ‘99-2000 school year we held a huge “take back the school” rally and tried to get back to the business of teaching and learning.

I don’t think anyone, at the time, was really thinking, “What will we do with all the looky-loos and mentally ill people who will be drawn to this building in the coming decades?” Sure, we went back that year to tour buses pulling up in front of the building (located just a few yards from the street), so tourists could hop out, walk around campus, and take pictures. Yeah, people wanted to come in and burn sage, open churches, perform exorcisms, and do all manner of other things, and while we were taken aback at first, we figured everyone would lose interest.

Anyway, we had bigger fish to fry—mainly not losing our individual and/or collective shit at any given moment.

Only people didn’t lose interest. We had no way of knowing that our tragedy would create a cult. We didn’t know that disaffected teens the world over would become fascinated by the two boys who had left us all so angry and sad and utterly bewildered. We knew there would be others; we didn’t want there to be, but we weren’t totally naïve. What we didn’t predict was that our name would become the synonym for a school shooting. We would never fall into the obscurity the schools before us had found. (That obscurity is also, by the way, a mixed bag.)

Every year, year after year, Columbine has dealt with threats to the school. They go on all year, usually peaking in April. One of the reasons Columbine has never again held regular school on April 20 is to keep people from targeting it on the anniversary, hoping to “finish what the boys started.” If you are not part of Columbine, you probably have no clue how often that phrase gets used, though it usually includes the boys’ names. I’m choosing not to, here. Once, a full seven years after the shooting, we evacuated the building and fled the grounds completely because of a bomb threat that included another threat that someone was in the park next to the school with a gun, waiting to mow us down. (We evacuated on the opposite side of the school.) We have routinely held lockouts where we go about our daily routines inside the building, but no one is allowed in or out while law enforcement evaluates yet another threat.

This is probably a good time to mention that, if you think it sounds like fun to pull this kind of thing, number one: It is devastating to the staff who lived that day. (Some were staff at the time, some were students who have come back to teach.) They are real people who care a great deal about kids and teach their hearts out. They do not deserve the agony your nonsense causes. Number two: Jeffco law enforcement is very, very good at finding these people. They’ve had a lot of practice. When they find them, the perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. A number of them have gone to jail. Columbine High School does not fuck around with this.

Once, our staff resisted wearing our ID badges, because it was a change we knew would not prevent another shooting. Then we wore them gladly, because badges make it easier to distinguish new student teachers and substitutes from all the random strangers who feel free to try to walk into the school. They want to see where IT happened. Usually, we catch them quickly. Sometimes they get far enough to ask students, who by now weren’t even born in 1999, where exactly everything happened. People peek in the library windows. Now this next thing is really important: As soon as someone explains that this isn’t the library we had in 1999, that that library has been demolished, the looky-loos’ shoulders droop a little in disappointment, and they lose interest in the library.

This matters because right now, as we talk about possibly tearing down the existing building, the biggest factor cited by the district is the security issues created by this cult of fascination. Lots of comments online revolve around the idea that as long as there is a building called Columbine High School, people will be drawn to it. But the reactions people have when they discover that the current library is not the library belie this assumption. These people don’t want to see just any old library, just as they don’t want to see just any old Columbine. They want to see the exact place where murderers walked and innocents died. Don’t understand this? Good for you! You are probably a healthy human being. You have no idea how many disturbed individuals are out there.

On to the next objection I keep reading: It doesn’t make sense to raze a “perfectly good building” now because of this. A) So the safety and security of the current nearly 2,000 kids in there is not worth a couple of bucks a month on a $500,000 home? B) Perfectly good?

Now, it’s time for a history lesson. Once upon a time, in the early 1970s, three areas in Jeffco appeared poised for a growth spurt: one in Arvada, one in Lakewood, and one in unincorporated Jeffco near the Littleton border. The district built three identical buildings on the cheap, with an eye toward making them into places that could quickly be turned into warehouses if the growth didn’t pan out. The energy crisis was on everyone’s lips, and the plans for the schools included almost no windows. Walls were practically made of spit and paper, many of them temporary accordion-pleated affairs. Classrooms had no doors. All three buildings opened at the same time, designed to accommodate 1,300 students very snugly.

In Arvada, in 1973, my brother became one of the first freshmen to attend Pomona High School all four years. By my freshman year there in 1976, we had so exceeded the building’s capacity that we went on split-sessions—upperclassmen in the morning, underclassmen in the afternoon. In the winter, I walked home after dark. By my sophomore year, we had gone to year-round school, a schedule that had ⅔ of the kids in school and ⅓ on break at any given time. The boy I had started dating went to one of Pomona’s triplets, Green Mountain in Lakewood. They were still on split-sessions to accommodate growth. The third triplet, Columbine, was on Concept Six (year round) like Pomona.

I graduated from Pomona in 1980, went to college, and unable to escape that cave-like, harvest gold and burnt orange monstrosity, went on to start teaching at the identical Columbine in 1986. A new high school had been built to alleviate the crowding, so they were just going off Concept Six, but the student body kept growing. The building was sad, but the school itself was family. It was renowned for the warmth and love of the people who walked those dark halls.

In 1990, I was elected to be on the committee of staff, students, and architects tasked with designing a massive remodel. We were given three million dollars (a little more than 5.5 million today) to update the building, make it ready for turn-of-the-century state-of-the-art technology, and enable it to fit 2,000 students. We worked hard to get the biggest bang for our buck. We did nothing to one whole wing of the building other than to provide new cabinets, as well as new appliances in the foods lab and a new dark room for the photo classroom. We did nothing to the gymnasium. We gutted the old, windowless building and reconfigured as best we could. While we punched windows into exterior walls, there was nothing to be done for the interior rooms. They remain dark caves. We added a two-story addition that went down the side of the hill, not up on top of the existing level. At the time, since the upper-level science hall emptied into a main hallway at one end and a major stairway at the other, it didn’t occur to us to put in another exit, in case children and a bleeding staff member were ever trapped in the wing, unable to get to either hallway exit. The teacher who would one day bleed to death in that hall was on our staff during the renovation. The things you don’t know at any given time…

In the course of creating the addition, we came up with the cheapest way possible to build an auditorium that would fit almost an entire class of students—450 seats. We used the downward slant of the new addition to create the raked floor. It’s expensive to get rid of all that dirt, so our principal convinced the park next store to let us dump it there, seed it, and create a sledding hill. To this day, it is known as Rebel Hill. One day, it would hold 13 wooden crosses.

When the “new” building opened in 1995, there were problems from the start. The wing that had received minimal renovation still had old pipes, which we would later discover tested positive for low levels of lead (but still above that which is considered safe). The sewage system had problems that were never fully resolved and only got worse. Last year, raw sewage started seeping into classrooms from under the walls. It hadn’t really been possible to build an HVAC system that worked with the odd footprint we’d started with, so while some rooms are ice-cold, others are broiling. Students dress in layers year-round to accommodate the climate in every classroom as they move through their day. The gym has all the issues you would expect of a 45-year-old facility. A few years ago, the math wing, built on top of the 1973 foundation, started cracking off and siding downhill.

Now, this alone is actually not justification to raze and rebuild Columbine, for the simple reason that there are buildings in Jeffco with worse problems than ours. It’s shameful, really, but as one of an army of teachers who have knocked on doors fall weekend after fall weekend for years, begging for money for buildings and resources, I can tell you that Jeffco voters do not take care of their schools. They just don’t. Last year we finally passed pretty anemic (compared to all the needs) mill and bond issues. Pretty much anything is “good enough” in Jeffco. That’s how you get to the idea that a school building with all the issues I’ve talked about (and they are only the tip of the iceberg) is “perfectly good.”

So I get why people in other schools, ones in worse shape than ours, are less than enthused at Columbine getting a new building while theirs languish. All I can say to that is at least the money from the last bond that was supposed to go to putting a few new Bandaids on Columbine will become available for you.

And all the Bandaids in the world will not help with the looky-loos and mentally ill people who want to come see where it happened. A new building won’t deter all of them, but if reactions to the newer library are any indication, it will significantly decrease them. Nothing they see will look like any of the video footage of April 20 still available on YouTube. Bringing down a totally new building will not “finish” any job. That job will be done already. A building farther back from the road is harder for buses to pull up at for gawkers. Moving so the athletic fields are by the street and the building is set back allows security more space to intercept and assess those with ill intent or simple lurid curiosity.

And for those like me, who didn’t want the boys to win, well, perhaps we do let them win if we allow them to chain kids a full generation after them to a school that faces constant security and basic functional challenges. Maybe it’s time to let go for the sake of those there today, providing family and warmth for all the kids we never dreamed of in 1999.

Posted in Life, the Universe, and Everything | 22 Comments

Abortion: Due Consideration

Recent bills passed in our country have resulted in social media posts that are ridiculously short for such a complicated subject. They tend to be things like “Her body, her choice” or “abortion is murder.” Both sentiments are such oversimplifications. This post is long, because this subject deserves deeper thought. Hang with me. If it appears I am taking a standard “pro-life” or “pro-choice” side, you’re not reading far enough or carefully enough.

To begin with (and the beginning is important), I believe human life begins at conception. We all start out as zygotes, then become embryos, fetuses, infants, then toddlers. If all goes well, we move through early and late childhood, then adolescence. Our adult years are often categorized as young adult, midlife, and late adulthood. If we get a full lifespan, we die at the end of this process. I just don’t see any logic to deciding that our status as humans begins arbitrarily somewhere else along this spectrum. I had two very planned, very wanted children, now both wonderful young adults. They started out as zygotes. I started out as a zygote. So did you.

The problem with “her body, her choice” is it ignores the fact that there’s another body here, and that human has no choice. So many responses are some form of “if you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one, but don’t interfere in my choice,” which ignores the choiceless, voiceless human being involved.

Too many on the “pro-life” side insist that the answer is simple: Make abortion illegal. The Republican party has made Supreme Court selection, with an eye toward overturning Roe v Wade, part of their platform. Many pro-lifers insist that by voting Republican, they’ve taken care of the problem. They will get the judges they need and outlaw abortion. Job done. They will have saved all those poor, unborn babies.

Which is just as shallow as “her body, her choice.” It focuses 100% on the means (outlawing abortion) while, ironically, ignoring what they claim to be the end, preventing the abortion of unborn babies. By ignoring that critical piece, they actually do pitifully little to prevent abortions. Empirical evidence strongly suggests that outlawing abortion doesn’t stop it. There is a better, more effective way.

It is vitally important that women have power over their own bodies and their own lives. They are, after all, also human beings. Reproductive power is a huge piece of this. We know from our own past and from other countries with extremely restrictive abortion laws that women will take this power one way or another. For those of us who believe that life begins at conception and that women should have power over their own bodies, the solution is very clear: A lifetime of scientifically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education and free, reliable contraceptives readily available. These two things will actually prevent the vast majority of abortions.

Switzerland and the Netherlands, which have made these two things a priority, have abortion rates of about 5 and 6, respectively, for every 1,000 women of reproductive age. In Mexico and Pakistan, where abortion is banned except to save the life of the mother, and sex education and contraceptives are discouraged, the rates are 50 and 34 per 1,000, respectively. In the US, where abortion is generally legal, sex-ed exists but is controversial, and where insurance has only recently fully covered contraception, the rate is about 12 per 1,000. Clearly, the legality or illegality of abortion is not the main factor in deciding whether or not women get abortions.

In countries where women have access to no-cost contraception, abortions fall between 52 and 78 percent. People (men and women) who know about and use effective contraception have agency over their lives without much need for abortion. They can have children when they are emotionally and financially ready, or not have them at all, if that is their wish. This is where “their lives, their choice” is utterly valid. No other human being is left voiceless in this choice. There is no moral reason for an outsider’s opinions to matter. Further, women taking the pill or using long-term contraception need not add a decision about abortion to the trauma of being raped, so even that controversially mitigating factor is addressed in many cases.

Of course, as wonderful as it is to drop abortion rates by 78 percent, that’s not 100 percent. Human lives are still ending in early developmental stages. What can we do about this? What should we do? This is where laws and policies matter. This is why voting Republican makes one no more pro-life than voting Democrat. (In fact, the argument can be made that voting Democrat is more in keeping with an anti-abortion stance, as Democrats generally support the two most effective pieces of abortion reduction: sex ed and contraception.)

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 21 percent of abortions in the U.S. occur because the mother has inadequate financial resources to have and raise a child. A pro-life party would support a health care system that reduces the current average cost in the U.S. of an uncomplicated vaginal birth (over $10,000). In the Netherlands, with their low abortion rates, it’s just over $2,000. Switzerland, another country with very low abortion rates, comes in at just over $8,000, fully covered by insurance everyone is required to carry. In fact, Switzerland’s policy looks a lot like the ACA. You know, that policy the GOP has been chipping away at. The Republican party believes people should have a choice in whether or not they carry health insurance, driving up insurance costs for everyone. This makes insurance inaccessible to many women. Even with insurance, they are often forced to pay thousands in copays, a cost that could be reduced if spread  more thinly across all those insured. Either way, childbirth is economically devastating to too many women.

And that’s just the beginning of the economic aspect of pregnancy. If a political party were truly pro-life, as the GOP professes to be, then it makes sense it would support programs like WIC, which provides resources, financial and otherwise, to women with infants and young children. It would support SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps). It would offer support to families in need. The Democratic party supports both, while the GOP has made cuts to both programs.

Financial stress causes—that’s right, causes—21 percent of all abortions. In America, we average around 650,000 abortions per year. Refusing to make even having, much less raising, a child financially feasible because you believe people should have choices about whether or not to have insurance or to help needy families means the end of 136,500 human lives before they are born. That is not anti-abortion. Combine hurtful financial policies with laws banning abortion and you don’t get an end to abortion. You get an increase in illegal, unsafe abortions. In this, the GOP  is actually pro-abortion, provided it is done with a coat-hanger or dubious medicines ordered on the internet.

Another 68 percent of abortions can pretty much be summed up as “I don’t want a baby right now.” They include things like not being ready, being too young, having as many children as they want already, that kind of thing. This is where knowing about and having access to free contraception comes in. Implants, IUD, the ring, the pill, shots and patches are all over 90 percent effective. They would prevent most abortions performed for these and financial reasons, over 90 percent of 89 percent of all abortions. Wow! Contraception empowers women and prevents 520,000 unborn babies from being aborted every year.

Kudos to all you pro-lifers out there who get this and support sex-ed and affordable, reliable, accessible contraception for all sexually active people. For those who refuse to go any further in  your approach than making abortion illegal, for shame! If you oppose sex-ed and contraception for whatever reason, religious or otherwise, you make imposing your beliefs on others more important than over half a million unborn babies. That is not pro-life.

Now we move into the gray areas, and there are gray areas, places where no option is the clear moral high ground. Around six percent of abortions occur because of issues surrounding the health of the fetus or mother. Contraception might help in some of these cases, provided the health issues involve a woman with an unplanned pregnancy. Other situations, especially when it comes to a non-viable pregnancy, are definitely a “her body/family, her choice.”

What does it matter if a fetus with anencephaly (some or most of the brain missing) leaves the womb before or after full gestation? It will die either way. Why must a woman carry a baby with trisomy 18 full term, only to have it suffer and die? She may decide she wants to carry to term, and she should certainly be able to make that decision, too. I just don’t see anyone else having moral authority in those cases.

What if she goes into preterm labor so early the baby cannot live? It’s fairly rare, but it does happen. And what if the baby doesn’t come easily on its own? In a country where abortion is illegal, a woman in such a situation may not go to the doctor for fear of being accused of intentionally causing what is, actually, a spontaneous abortion. A miscarriage. She may bleed out or die of sepsis as a result of that fear. If she does seek treatment, the doctor or hospital may refuse to help her, afraid of being accused of performing an illegal abortion. This happens all too often in countries with abortion bans. The fact that it would affect relatively few women is beside the point. Those women matter! The babies wouldn’t live, anyway. The moral high ground is actually clear here. If a woman having a miscarriage needs help, she should be able to seek it, and a doctor should be able to provide it without fear.

And then there was the young woman in a support group I once facilitated. She was struggling with addiction, and then she became pregnant. When she told the group, several girls immediately piped up with “Oooh! I’ll be happy to babysit” and similar comments. There was something about the look on her face. “Wait a minute,” I said, and reminded them that she had decisions to make. Being pregnant doesn’t necessarily mean being a mother. She burst into tears. “I can’t stay clean for a day. How am I supposed to stay clean for eight months? And what have I already done to this baby?” I had already offered the kids with drug issues resources for treatment, and I suggested that she could get support in trying to get clean. She nodded but said nothing and didn’t respond to my overtures after group. The next week, when one of the kids asked where she was in her decision, she didn’t want to talk about it. She never talked about it again, but the weight was palpable. She didn’t make the decision lightly. You can wish she had gotten clean and given the baby up. I can wish she was in treatment and had an IUD. We can moralize all we want, but I think any true addict can understand why she did what she did. It’s not our place to judge her.

There are a thousand health issues that impact pregnancy. I don’t know all of them, nor do I know how they should be handled. Neither do you. The best course of action is best decided, case by case, between a woman and the medical professionals working with her. Will they always make the right call? No. Neither will you.

Finally, there is this uncomfortable concept we refer to in war: collateral damage. You see, in any war, innocent people die. (Sometimes they are pregnant women and their unborn babies.) This means that, in deciding whether to go to war, attack a village, or launch a drone attack, we weigh the cost in innocent lives against the gain in that hostile action. Why do we ever decide in favor of attack? Generally because we believe threats against our liberty, safety, and/or economic well-being merit the loss of innocent lives. Look at that again. We believe threats against our liberty, safety, and/or economic well-being merit the loss of innocent lives. Now look above at all the reasons women get abortions: not being ready, being too young, having as many children as they want already, and the one percent of abortions performed because of rape or incest (liberty), financial stress (economic well-being), health issues (safety). Just as we don’t take war lightly, neither should we take abortion lightly, but it is hypocritical to suggest that collateral damage in a war to protect these things in your life is fine, while collateral damage to protect women you may or may not know is not.

Look, I’m no more comfortable with this than you probably are. Collateral damage is ugly, whether it’s war or abortion. That’s why I support prevention, through diplomacy for the former and contraception for the latter. But if you have ever voted for a politician whose actions caused any collateral damage, you are already not the purely pro-life voter you may wish you could be. None of us is without sin, so maybe no one is in any place to throw stones.

Four pages, single spaced. Did you stick with it? The issue is just too complex and too important for throwaway labels like pro-choice or pro-life, if all you mean by that is either abortion is a morally neutral choice or you just want abortion to be illegal so you don’t have to think about it anymore. The analysis it merits doesn’t fit on Facebook or Twitter. The moral solution for roughly 89 percent of abortions does: Sex-ed and contraception.

I realized I throw a lot of stats around. Below are sources for most of them. I wasn’t really thinking about it as I worked, so some sources may not be included. Also, sorry, this blog is not friendly to MLA formatting.

“Abortion | Data and Statistics | Reproductive Health | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Nov. 2019, www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm.

“AbortionFacts.com.” Fact #8: Less than 1% of All Abortions Are Performed to Save the Life of the Mother. – AbortionFacts.com, AbortionFacts.com, 2019, www.abortionfacts.com/facts/8?fbclid=IwAR0ZCSf7RmsjPq-RM1R4eQgDL2uaVneKKyWMrBFbZbbyCKgfuNdFsoZDD4I.

Fox, Maggie. “Abortion Rates Fell as Countries Made It Legal and OK’d Birth Control.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 21 Mar. 2018, 5:52 a.m., www.nbcnews.com/health/health-care/abortion-rates-go-down-when-countries-make-it-legal-report-n858476.

Oi, Mariko. “How Much Do Women around the World Pay to Give Birth?” BBC News, BBC, 13 Feb. 2015, www.bbc.com/news/business-31052665.


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Fraying at the Edges

It’s getting warm; the 20th anniversary is coming and tension around that is filling the ether that holds the social media universe suspended, more so than most anniversaries. I wake up feeling anxious. I cry at the drop of a hat. I am fraying at the edges. I can feel it. I’m not unraveling, but if something catches one of those loose edges…

I am realizing that I have done more media interviews than I should, so if you are a journalist coming to my blog to contact me for an interview, the answer is probably no. I can’t tell my story anymore right now. I cannot talk about how I feel about legislators who just don’t give two shits about keeping guns away from children and the places children learn or how ironic it is that these legislators are generally part of the “pro-life” party. At any rate, I’ll fulfill the obligations I’ve already made to journalists, and then I’m going into self-protection mode.

Also, this is the first time in many, many years that I have not been at Columbine leading up to the anniversary. On the one hand, I am grateful not to be literally surrounded by reminders. On the other, I miss being around people who “get it.” I am certainly not opening up this can of worms in my new office. It’s a mixed bag, being away.

In no way do I want this post to discourage my MCHS and MSD friends from reaching out to me. I know you’re struggling, especially MSD with everything going on. But I think it’s good for you to know that it’s OK to say I’m not OK. It’s OK to set boundaries. And sometimes we fray at the edges, but we don’t have to unravel every time.

Posted in Columbine, Life, the Universe, and Everything | 8 Comments

Not-So-Happy Anniversaries

Having visited and bonded with survivors at Marshall County High School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, I am seeing more and more posts about the upcoming first anniversaries of their school shootings. I see a marked difference between posts of people planning public acknowledgment and those of survivors. The planners talk about healing. The survivors talk about the daily effort of surviving. It’s weird to be looking at it all from this vantage point–from being the somewhat objective “helper” and the utterly subjective “fellow survivor.”

Everyone is trying so hard to use this marker as a way to contain what happened and its aftermath. Those are two different things, the event and its aftermath. The event is already pinned into place. It has an anniversary. That day comes and goes year after year.

The aftermath is amorphous. There are triggers leading up, and it is not over when it’s over. It doesn’t fit into a day. At least, not for a long, long time.

I can give hope, but I have little to offer in the way of comfort right now. That first year was just so, so hard. I don’t know of any way to change that. I ache, literally ache, for these good people.

Anyway, here are some of the questions I had on our first anniversary, and the answers I would give myself if I could go back in time almost 19 years:

Old Me: I used to feel deeply connected to God–not a personified, singular, sentient deity, but a Whole greater than the sum of Its parts. Now I feel utterly adrift in the universe. Will I ever feel reconnected?

New Me: Yes, and in a deeper and more meaningful way. You will become more aware of how vast the Whole is. It will make you feel bigger and smaller at the same time. It’s a trip. Eventually, you’ll love it.

OM: I became a teacher because that’s what God called me to be. Have I lost my calling along with that connection?

NM: You haven’t actually lost your connection to God. That’s not possible. A person can’t break off from the universe. You feel disconnected. That’s different from being disconnected. You’ll be called to do a lot of things in your life. You didn’t worry about it before; it just came. Don’t worry about it now. You have smaller fish to fry, and that’s OK for right now.

OM: I used to be one of those teachers who really loved and bonded with kids. Now, I only feel really connected to the kids I had bonded with before the shootings. I feel like there’s this wall between me and my new students. Is that wall there forever? Will I ever be able to love another student the way I used to?

NM: Just wait until one of the kids you think is on the other side of the wall seems like he is going to kill  himself. You will find out lickity-split how much you love that kid. You feel that love now. You’re just too busy freaking out about that first question to realize it.

OM: It’s always there. I mean always. Even if I’m having a semi-OK day or moment or whatever. It’s always there, like an albatross around my neck. Sometimes I think it’s become my key identity. I used to be Paula–a teacher, a wife, a mother, a daughter, all these things. Now, I feel like all I am is Paula–a Columbine shooting survivor. That’s it. Is everything else lost?

NM: No! Right now it’s unavoidable. The whole school is no longer Columbine–a school with sports teams and a speech team and a drama department and a thousand other things. Now, it’s Columbine–not a school, but a mass shooting event. There’s a whole mythos evolving about the school that is hard to even recognize. The whole place is having a massive identity crisis, and you’re swimming in it; you feel like you’re drowning in it. All those old identities are still there for the school and for you. You’ve just lost your sense of proportion. You’ll gather those old identities back around you, plus add things like author and union activist and all kinds of other great things. Then you’ll retire and start to reinvent again. You’ll like who you become.

OM: But I feel changed on this deep molecular level. Like a synthetic version of myself. Plasticized almost. Like an imposter. What good are my old identities if they don’t feel like me anymore?

NM: Just as there are many possible versions of teachers, wives, and mothers, there are many possible versions of you in those roles. When you let go of who you were before, you will begin to see who you are now. You will brook less bullshit. You will prioritize differently. You will appreciate life more–you know, as soon as you’re done kinda hating it, and that will be a while yet.

OM: I don’t want to do this anymore. Not any of it. I don’t want to teach, but I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t want to hurt anymore. I’m tired. How can I make it stop?

NM: The only way out is through. You’re not on a treadmill. You only feel that way. Keep going.

OM: It’s exhausting. I feel broken.

NM: I know. You can do it. Hemingway was right: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Right now you simply have no idea how strong  you are.

OM: Will April 20th ever be just another day? Will I ever suddenly realize it’s April 21st and I forgot?

MN: No. At least, not that I can tell, after nearly 20 years. It’ll be OK, though, after a while.

If I could talk to myself almost 20 years ago, I would promise myself that I would do more than survive. Be more than a survivor.

And my almost 20-year-ago self would not feel much better, I don’t think, but it would be good to hear.


Posted in Columbine, Life, the Universe, and Everything | 12 Comments

Sexual Abuse in the 70’s–One Story

I could tell a few stories, but I’ve chosen the one that pains me, personally, the least. One where I am no longer in contact with anyone involved, so I am least likely to cause pain to others. At the same time, in many ways, it’s pretty horrible when you think about it.

The summer between 5th and 6th grade was typical of suburbia in 1973. I roamed the neighborhood with a small pack of other kids all day long. At lunch we’d converge at someone’s house, and whichever mom was there fed us peanut butter or bologna sandwiches and sent us back out into the sunshine. Along about dinner time, moms would step out onto porches and shout children’s names. Only vowels carry at those distances, so when a mom was heard, we all listened intently. “EEEEEEEE–ahhhhhhh,” was Lisa, “AAAAAAAAH–aaaaaaaah,” was me, and so on.

After dinner, as dusk crept over the backyards, we played games of Red-light, Green-light and Mother May I. After dark, we moved on to Truth or Dare. We were very innocent back then. Truth was questions like “Have you ever stolen anything?” or “Have you ever told a friend’s secret?” Dare usually involved ringing someone’s doorbell and running away or filching cookies for everyone from home.

The family next to me was big–five kids. The oldest was boy a year younger than me, then three girls, followed by another boy still in diapers. The older boy (I’ll call him Jack) and I were friends, and one night as we played our innocent game of Truth or Dare, his father joined us. The dad dared Jack to go to the far side of the dark yard and count planes flying overhead for five minutes. With Jack on the other side of the yard, the dad said he had a dare for me. I told him it didn’t work that way; I was supposed to choose. He said he was changing the rules. He told me I was very mature for a ten-year-old. I explained that I was almost 11, so you know, of course I was pretty mature. Eleven. His dare was for me to lie down and let him walk his fingers over my body. I was to tell him which place excited me most.

Gross! I said no. He said, “C’mon, I thought you were so mature.” I said I thought I’d better go home, and he grabbed my wrist–hard–gave me this fierce look, and said, “This is our secret. Do not tell anyone.” Well, nothing had actually happened, and he kind of scared me, so I didn’t tell.

Later that summer a bunch of us had finished lunch at Jack’s house. It must have been a weekend, because the dad was home during the day. One of the neighborhood girls, a few years younger than me, said she had to go to the bathroom and asked me to go with her. I asked why, and she said she didn’t like going to the bathroom at Jack’s house alone. I was a kid. No red flags showed up for me. Who knows why little kids do anything? I said sure and sat on the side of the tub talking to her while she peed.

Pop! went the lock of the door, and in walked Jack’s dad with the skinny little pen knife he’d used to pick the simple bathroom door lock. The other girl screamed, and I jumped off the tub to push Jack’s dad out of the bathroom. He said, “I just wondered what you two were up to.”

“Going to the bathroom!” I shouted. He was much bigger than me, of course, so I couldn’t budge him. The neighbor girl pulled her pants up without even wiping, and we ran out to where all the other kids were. We said nothing.

At the end of the summer, my mother came to me and said Jack’s dad was upset with me because I had told Jack “the facts of life.” I told her I had not, which was true. I had only told him about the baby chick unit he would get to do in 5th grade. It was a unit where the class had chicken eggs in an incubator. Periodically the teacher would carefully cut a hole in one so we could see the stages of development. Eventually, the eggs that hadn’t been sacrificed for science hatched into fluffy, peeping, yellow chicks. It was pretty cool. Anyway, I said, after the stuff Jack’s dad had done, he had no business getting mad at me. “What?” my mother asked.

So I told her about Truth or Dare and the bathroom. She told my dad. Now, my dad was maybe 5’10” and not muscular. He was also an introverted electrical engineer. Jack’s dad was huge and loud and pretty intimidating. My dad went next door and asked Jack’s dad to step outside, in part because he wasn’t entirely sure Jack’s dad wouldn’t get violent behind closed doors, and in part to keep Jack’s family from overhearing the conversation.

When my dad got home, he was visibly upset. (My dad was seldom visibly upset. He was always calm and soft-spoken.) Jack’s dad had not denied what I’d said. He’d only claimed that he didn’t recall these incidents. “If someone claimed I did these things, I would know I hadn’t done them,” Dad said. “It wouldn’t be a matter of whether or not I recalled them.”

My mom spoke to all the other moms of little girls on the block, who in turn spoke to their daughters. Of course, now I know that pedophiles who prey on prepubescent children often do not have a preferred sex of child. It is only the hairless, immature body that is the object of desire. Those were more innocent times. I think the idea that Jack’s dad might also prey upon boys was inconceivable to the adults around me. Long story short, Jack’s dad had touched, peeped at, or otherwise behaved inappropriately toward every little girl on the block. Every. Single. One.

The adults conferred, and the consensus was this: No way could Jack’s mother, a stay-at-home mom in the 1970’s, ever hope to get a job that would support her and five children. Turning Jack’s dad in and having him go to jail was not an option. So little girls were forbidden to ever play at Jack’s house when his dad was home. That was it.

Jack had three little sisters.

I think the idea that a man might prey upon his own children was inconceivable. We kept using that word. I do not think it means what we thought it meant.

A year later, my parents divorced and I moved. I never saw Jack or any of his family again. If they’d stayed in the old neighborhood, we would have ended up in high school together, but we didn’t, so they must have gone somewhere. Did the little girls in their new neighborhood, or his daughters, or possibly even his sons, ever tell?

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Maybe, Maybe Not

As a certified control freak, I do not do uncertainty well. If a tsunami is coming, I can plan for that or brace myself. If a tsunami washes over  me unexpectedly, well, I’m in it now, so all I can do is swim or drown, and which one it will be is going to be pretty clear pretty quick. But if a tsunami may be coming, but maybe not…

Or if something great is coming, even if it’s a lot of work, like a wedding, there are a lot of moving pieces, but I can organize the hell out of it, so it’s stressful, but there’s an outlet.

But man, this thing of selling a house. A house you weren’t ready to sell, so you know there are issues, but the only thing you can do is try to price it right and pray… And that last thing really doesn’t help when you don’t believe in an interventionist God. I mean, if there’s an interventionist God, it really needs to be working on a lot bigger things than the sale of my house.

Thank God I’m not teaching right now. I have the kind of flexible schedule that allows me to run home and get the dogs for showings. I can work in inspections and that kind of thing. Plus education feels like one huge, deep pool of uncertainty right now, so if I were teaching, I’d probably be gibbering to myself in a corner.

There’s nothing to do about it. I keep telling myself this, but I seem to be awash in stress hormones anyway. That’s it. If you were hoping for insights on how to deal with the stress of uncertainty, I got nothin’.

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Back to School After a Shooting

Between a conversation with a Marshall teacher last week and another with a mental health care worker in Parkland, it’s clear that teachers in schools recently affected by gun violence are thinking about going back to school. Some are contemplating that first year back after the summer.

The summer after a shooting is a mixed bag. You miss your colleagues and have been worried about your students. You feel a little like a lifeline was severed, even as you are so relieved to have some of the pressure off. A colleague of mine put it best in May of 1999: “I just want to come have breakfast with you all every morning this summer. We can just be together, eat breakfast, and go home.” That would have been perfect.

I could write pages and pages about the first year, but instead, I’m going to condense to the most important things I can think of off-the-cuff:

  • You know that “new normal” everyone tells you is coming? It ain’t coming this year. And that’s a good thing, because this is going to be a hard, hard year. We kept stopping and looking at each other and asking, “My God, is this the new normal? Because if it is, I want off the ride. Now.” It is not the new normal. Give it a few years.
  • Personally, I recommend finding a good therapist. My husband was an awesome support system, and I was sure I could make it without a lot of outside help. (I didn’t really gel with the therapist I tried; I should have kept looking). The thing is, I didn’t really take into account what supporting me was costing my husband. Turns out it was a hell of a lot.
  • On that note: Form support groups for partners and spouses. The teachers are going to be hard to deal with, especially at home after giving everything they have at school all day. Partners need a place to vent where everyone gets it and no one judges because they are sick and tired of their messed-up partner/spouse.
  • You won’t be messed-up forever. I’ll say it again: You won’t be messed-up forever. Say it with me: We won’t be messed-up forever.
  • You will mostly be a basket case this year. It is not your new normal, and you won’t be messed-up forever.
  • You and the kids will hug and cry a lot. It’s OK. One time I was crying in the girls’ bathroom with a student while two other girls put on makeup and barely seemed to notice us. It was our temporary normal. We all got each other through.
  • While you can’t fall apart in front of your students, it’s OK to get weepy, and it’s OK to be honest about your own feelings. It’s vital to be honest. When they see you acknowledge and express your feelings, you give them permission to acknowledge and express theirs. If this makes outsiders (i.e. anyone who wasn’t there with you) uncomfortable, tough shit for them. Do NOT let anyone tell you that you have to be Iron Man in front of the kids.
  • Cut back on the workload for you and the kids. Don’t dumb-down, but do strip down to the most essential learning. Everyone’s attention span is at a low. New learning is difficult for traumatized brains, and you won’t have energy for the usual grading and planning load. If anyone tells you that you must continue to deliver instruction as you always have, tell them to take a hike.
  • You’re going to struggle in a tug-of-war between compassion and standards, knowing that the kids need all the skills they need for college and career. This year, err on the side of compassion. Next year, up the expectations. If you go too long on the compassion thing, it’s hard to come back. It’s complicated.
  • High schools need to remember that freshmen are in a weird place. They may be traumatized by proximity and family connections. They may not. It’s hard for them to blend into high school already, but one bound by tragedy? Even harder. Help them out. Admin needs to facilitate this with great attention and intention.
  • Don’t let anyone give you a timeline to “get over it.” There’s no schedule. Besides, you’ll never get over it. In time, you will be OKI absolutely promise that—but you will never “get over it.”
  • Hug each other. Love each other. Forgive each other and yourselves. Forgive it all—the times you bite each other’s heads off, or you think someone did something inappropriate, or you don’t get someone’s feelings or they don’t get yours. Breathe in the pain, feel it, acknowledge it, don’t judge, and breathe out love.

If you are an educator who has survived a shooting, and you have other questions, leave it in the comments, email me (use the contact button above), or ask on Facebook. BTW, if you haven’t joined The Rebels Project and The Rebels Project for Educators on Facebook, look into it. The groups are nothing but support for survivors.

Posted in Columbine | 8 Comments

What’s Good About Facebook?

We have a love/hate relationship with this social media giant, don’t we? I see friends post about cleaning out their own friends list or unfriending because Facebook has made relationships toxic.  The news is rife with stories of data mining, privacy violations, and fake news. There is clickbait and cyberstalking. No wonder people check out for Lent or a host of other reasons.

But I see something else more often. I see people post their vulnerabilities. Expressions of depression or failure or pain. I’ve watched names shift as young people struggle with their identity and gender expression. And I know some see this as TMI, too much sharing, all that. But when I see these posts, I hear, “I am fundamentally flawed. Does anyone love me anyway?” And I see comments that express love and support. I see numbers ticking up next to tiny hearts and thumbs up. I see little round faces shedding sympathetic tears.

I suppose I could be all cynical and say that support isn’t real, but I’m not cynical, and while I know the depth of those responses is varied, I also know each one is a whispered, “I do. I love you anyway. Like you, I am fundamentally flawed, but I can offer some small measure of comfort, and so I will.”

There’s not a damned thing wrong with that. I know it does a lot of good sometimes.

To all my friends who have found themselves calling out into the wilderness of social media, “I am fundamentally flawed. Does anyone love me anyway?” I offer this poem, which was read in church this morning:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,

translation by Coleman Barks


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