I’m sitting at my desk today. I’m heartbroken.
I just watched President Trump do his best to console a nation. I appreciate his words, and I appreciate the empathy that he is showing. I also appreciate his support for students, teachers, and first responders. This support has never been more needed than it is today.
In the chaos that is our country right now, I haven’t really been shaken to my core by the shootings that seem to dominate our daily news cycles. I was dismayed with the killings in Las Vegas. I was sad for the elementary school students in New Mexico. As a former pastor, I was horrified by the church shooting in Texas. I was emphatic and hurt, but I didn’t physically tremble like I did yesterday when the news of the shooting in Florida flashed across my iPhone.
Today is different.
Children died. Again. And as President Trump stated, these kids had hopes and dreams. These kids had names. These kids meant the world to their teachers, their parents, and their family. These kids were America’s future and embodied all that we have, as Americans, supposedly built our nation for.
Today, it seems to be different for me.
As an educator, I’m cognizant of the messages that I send our kids. I work so hard to be consistent as a teacher, leader, and parent. I work to make sure that my public words model my public roles. I strive to make sure that if I make a mistake that I fix it. The words, “I am sorry. I was wrong. I will fix.” seem to be a constant refrain to my students, colleagues, and children.
Today is different. Today, I am different.
I’ve been horrified the last few years as our public discourse has taken deep, dark, and negative tones. I’ve tried to remain respectful while TV pundits have questioned the faith and nationality of our former president while doing little to squash the backlash and permanent damage that it caused. I’ve tried to show patience when so many call our current president “illegitimate, stupid, and insane.” Between the chants of “lock her up” and “me too” I’ve done all I can to model the peace, respect, and hope that my students so desperately need.
During this time, I’ve clung to the idea that the American people aren’t stupid and that we know what we are doing when we make electoral choices. The American people elected who they wanted as our leader in 2016, and since then, I have felt that President Trump deserves the respect, and the chance, to lead this great nation.
Yet, today is different. Children died yesterday. Again.
Politicians were quick to offer prayers and support. Teachers all over this nation came to work today with more empathy for their students and for their colleagues. Some senators even used this a call to regulate guns. Others, like Ted Cruz, blamed Democrats and liberals for politicizing a horrible disaster. Normally, I would look the other way from reality and count my blessings that this time it wasn’t my class, my school, my students, or my children.
But, for me, today is different.
For years I’ve watched the name calling, the quick soundbites to get ratings by demeaning our leaders (on both sides), and the call to question the very law enforcement professionals that we ask to keep us safe. I’ve heard about the “deep state” and the use of email accounts. I’ve seen the fight over memos and whether or not a porn star who was paid $130,000 is credible enough to justify a discussion about someone’s personal sex life. I’ve heard the banter about who deserves to call themselves an American. I’ve cringed as we’ve stopped communicating with each other. I’ve watched us build walls, taking the attitude, “you are either with me or against me.” All of this has played out in real time while my students have been watching.
I’ve listened as we accepted the notion that, “I can stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot people and they will still vote for me.” I shook my head at the time but thought that it was just some joke to get votes. I’ve watched as we’ve attacked people for political scores, booed during the State of the Union address (for this and the last president), and defended white nationalists as “good people.”
I’ve listened as we make excuses by saying, “These are just words. They really don’t matter.” But I know differently. You see, words to me and my students matter. They really matter. They really really matter. Words are how we craft our lives. Words are how we communicate. Words are one way that we show others who we are, what we believe, and what is important. Words are how many of us show empathy, care, and concern.
Today is different. Children died. Again.
Listen up, American politicians. Our students and our teachers really don’t care about your rhetoric, political beliefs, or even your differences. We don’t really care about your political parties, your view on taxes, and the person who you sleep with who is not your wife. We don’t really care about electoral maps, control of legislatures, and the daily polls that show you whether or not we are “pro-gun.” We aren’t really concerned about your foundations, your libraries, or your legacies.
We’ve even turned the other way and stopped questioning how you run our house, the White House, on a daily basis.
While these items might be legitimate and important concerns, what we really care about is how you are going to lead. We don’t want you to lead just some of us. We don’t want you to pander to your base. What we really want is for you to wake up, stand up, get up, and be the people we need you to be right now. This is the time when we should come together as a people, not shout at each other, even politely, on national television. This is the time that we should shine as Americans. This is the time when our students are watching how you respond to a national epidemic as we watch our innocent children being slaughtered in real time. This is the time that you need to work to make a difference in our county.
Stop fighting over memos. Stop worrying about emails. Stop coming up with schemes like “Blue Apron boxes” for food stamp recipients. Stop trying to tell us what we need or want. For all that is holy, turn off FOX NEWS, CNN, and MSNBC. Stop screaming that every story is fake news. It doesn’t really matter to us. We didn’t elect journalists to lead our country: we elected you.
We elected you to do your job. It’s impossible to live the American ideal of “pursuing life, liberty, and happiness” when we are constantly scared and fearful of being gunned down as we work to learn how to experience the very American dream that this country was founded on and you’ve promised to protect.
It’s absolutely ridiculous that the very people that we elect and pay to develop policies that keep us safe can’t even sit in a room together and talk.
We don’t want to see you on FOX NEWS or CNN. We don’t want to hear your divisive rhetoric. Stop asking us to decipher complex issues that involve our families, our schools, our students, and our lives with a simple Tweet. And for the love of God, stop telling us the concerns we have are “conservative or liberal” issues.
Take a time out and stop pointing fingers to score ideological points. Quit telling us that “now is not the time” to talk about guns, school safety, and mental health. The American people should dictate when the time is to discuss these issues, not politicians making an appearance on the talk show of a strong television personality. From what I am hearing from my colleagues, students, and parents, that time is now.
For years teachers have covered for you. We’ve given you the benefit of the doubt. We’ve sung the party line, balancing between showing respect while showing our students what to do when we disagree with someone. We’ve taken part in the “conversation” and pushed through, hoping that in the end, it would all work out.
Today is different. Children died AGAIN yesterday.
It’s hard to believe that we can’t even discuss in this country the concept of someone owning an assault rifle that is designed and sold to “inflict the most damage.” It’s even harder to believe this when we police everything in our society from car insurance to drugs to air to speed limits to food. And yet it is possible in this country that madmen can run our streets and enter our safe places under the disguise of the “Second Amendment protects my rights.”
What is even more astonishing is when we understand the requirements that we expect our teachers, policemen, and fireman to fulfill in the name of “protecting our citizens.” We require our nurses, doctors, lawyers, ministers, and even cosmetologists to pass certain expectations and tests. We do all of this and more, and yet we won’t even stop to discuss ideas that explore better ways of doing things when it comes to guns in this country.
Wake up, America. Children died yesterday. And I am afraid that our tomorrows will not be any different.
Our children are watching. They are listening. They are scared. It’s time for our leaders to lead. It’s time that you show up to join dedicated teachers and loving parents. Even Jesus eventually came down from praying on the mountain to make a difference.
It’s time to stop all of this. It’s time to pray and act.
It’s finally time for you to become the grown up that we so desperately need right now in the room.