When Prayers Aren’t Enough

I heard about last week’s school shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on the radio, while I was driving home from work last Wednesday. No, no, no, no, I prayed, but prayer doesn’t work that way, and the disembodied voice kept speaking with a collectedness that I knew neither of us felt. I felt both hollow and heavy, like my belly had been carved out in a single, sharp, cold scoop. Five days later, despair still seems a sane response. Why do we keep allowing our school children to be slaughtered? An ugly question with even uglier answers.

Political corruption enables the violence; our politicians receive a lot of money from the NRA, and as a result refuse to pass common-sense gun laws. Denialism also plays a role. There is clear, unsurprising empirical evidence that communities with more guns suffer from more gun-related violence. However, passionate proponents of a particular interpretation of the Second Amendment won’t budge in the direction that the empirical evidence points. But there were other, more malevolent factors at play in last week’s shooting, too. In a photo on Instagram, the gunman wore a MAGA hat, and although the claim that he trained with a white nationalist group turned out to be false, still a leader of that group tried to claim him.

I was hurting, when I came home from work last Wednesday to reunite with my own school-aged children. Hugging them and seeing the valentines they had received at school that day was a balm, after hearing news of the shooting. Then my children went to bed, and I read an email from their school notifying me that they would participate in a lock-down drill on Friday. The drill had been scheduled before the shooting occurred, the email stated, and while the teachers and administration acknowledged the difficulty of its timing with respect to current events, they felt the safest, most responsible choice was to continue with the drill as scheduled. I silently agreed. Then I wept.

We didn’t have lock-down drills at school, when I was a kid. I asked my nine-year-old daughter what it was like, when I picked her up from school on Friday. Her teacher had locked the classroom door and covered the windows, she told me, while she and her classmates practiced huddling together closely and quietly in a corner.

“Is it scary?” I asked. “To imagine something like that happening?” I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. A shooter. In your school building. Where you are supposed to be safe. Trying to kill you.

“Well, yeah, but it’s good that we know what to do,” she replied matter-of-factly. Then she asked if we could stop for ice cream on the way home. Her tone communicated that there was nothing weird about having to do a lock-down drill, it was just a normal part of going to school. I wept again.

We’ve been wrestling as a society with the problem of gun violence for years; I don’t have any answers in this post. But guns are now the third leading cause of death for children in the U.S., and I believe that I have both a personal and professional responsibility as a nurse to do something. My grief and my prayers are not enough, to treat the wounds that guns inflict on our children and our communities.

Since last week’s shooting, I’ve contacted my representative *again* about the issue of gun violence. I’ve donated to Everytown for Gun Safety. I will continue to vote for candidates who support common-sense, evidence-based gun legislation. I’m aware that what exactly common-sense gun legislation might be is an open question, but I plan to keep learning, and to participate in the goal-oriented conversation that we all must have, if we care.

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