Step out of the Shade

Last night, I went to church. And I sat there alone (yet with my family) in the dark solitude—in a sort of helpless silence.

It was Ash Wednesday and I had been planning to be there for weeks. I honestly cherish this moment of sitting in contemplation, in consideration of who I have been and who I am supposed to be…who I will choose to become and why. But this year, this moment of post Mardi Gras peace and calm held a different weight, a much heavier one and I found myself a bit lost.

I entered the sanctuary heavy hearted. The afternoon had unfolded unexpectedly into what were unfortunately familiar moments of school violence, brokenness revealed, and grief beyond measure. As a teacher—honestly, as a person in the world—my concerns were past counting. I worried about how my students, on holiday this week for Mardi Gras break, were processing all of this. I worried for my own kids who I hadn’t yet figured out how to explain this news to-as if there is an explanation. And I worried for their teachers who so carefully watch over them every day of the school week. I worried for my own helplessness in protecting the lives entrusted to me in the event of a situation of this magnitude on my own campus (because courage, swift thinking, and calming words can only go so far when weapons have fallen into violent, angry, hurt, or helpless hands).

I didn’t have the energy to be angry yet amid this flurry of concern, though I knew it would come and I knew I would need to direct it effectively or it would be a wasted emotion, serving no meaningful purpose.

So, I sat and I tried to pray, to turn over the worry, to ease the ache, to begin a contemplative process of seeking a way to change minds and make a difference…to find the words needed to convey that the lives of our children are not to become the fuel and substance of a political argument mired in and dominated by selfish desires. The lives of our children should be valued in a way that clears our vision and allows us to rise above ourselves in order to work together to keep them safe, even if only at school—for the love of all that is good in this world, learning in a free country should not be a dangerous endeavor. The lives of our children, of all of our children, shouldn’t be tied to agenda, they should be tethered to our hearts.

Yet, prayers wouldn’t come. I didn’t even know where to begin. My mind was so cluttered. So I just sat there in quiet reflection, which I suppose is a form of prayer anyway, and found myself circling around the same three words—a sort of desperate cry from within for comfort, clarity, and courage.

In the midst of all of this, Gwendolyn Brooks’ “truth” came to mind. The imagery she uses in this poem seemed particularly appropriate to the moment and a means of explaining why comfort wouldn’t come. She begins her poem with these lines, “And if the sun comes/How shall we greet him?/Shall we not dread him,/Shall we not fear him/After so lengthy a/Session with shade?”

Here’s the thing, the sun is here, and it is hot and it is revealing, allowing nothing to be hidden and demanding to be noticed. It is uncomfortable for those who have been lounging in the shade to “Hear the fierce hammering/Of his firm knuckles/Hard on the door,” but we can no longer “…sleep in the coolness/of snug unawareness.” It is time to wake up to the reality of what is happening in this world that we have created and to the reality of what we are doing to each other and to our kids.

Gun violence in schools (and not just in other people’s schools—this can happen in any school) is screaming at us like a child throwing a tantrum and it is not going to be resolved through single-minded pettiness. We are all accountable in this conversation and it begins with opening serious dialogue intended to find a means to successfully combat gun violence and continuing into de-stigmatizing mental health, providing appropriate resources and education, exploring the social media impact, and so much more. The world is a complicated place and the last thing it needs is us fighting over saving the lives of our kids while keeping ourselves comfortable. I feel like this issue is pretty clear—are the lives of kids important are they worth protecting and if so, what are we doing about it?

But at some point, we cannot continue to just talk about this. Action needs to be taken and the onus of making that happen falls to each and every one of us. Not just to teachers and parents and students—to all of us—this is a national crisis and we need to step out of the “propitious haze,” see the truth, and start doing something about it. Not because we are afraid (acting out of fear is dangerous), but because we shouldn’t have to be.

(other poems that I’ve been looking to as I wander seeking clarity include—Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song For the Day” and Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones” as well as for some reason Jennifer Grotz’s “Poppies”.)