I rolled over and found myself on crowded streets of the North Side area of Pittsburgh. People pushed past me on their way to wherever they needed to be. Suddenly someone up ahead signaled an “active shooter” situation. Those around me and I ducked into the nearest building. Minutes later, so did the gunman. Trembling with fear, we found ourselves in a hostage situation. A couple kids, a couple adults, and me….huddled together. A sense of doom. A push into another room. Smoke in the air. Chaos around. We were moved from room to room and building to building. Shots rang out. Fear. Pain. Darkness. Darkness. Darkness and sandwiches.
I startled awake, heart pounding, sweat beading, mind racing. I lay there for hours aching in my deepest soul.
I have not known a single victim of any terror attacks or mass shootings, yet I am traumatized by what is happening in this country. Traumatized by news that rocks my soul. A toddler, a kid, a pregnant woman, numerous family members gunned down as they sit in worship. Hundreds of people dealing with physical and emotional injuries from bullets barraging a country music concert in addition to the 56 dead. Families grieving. Loved ones crying. Thousands of people dying every day by gun violence.
I shield my young boys from the trauma. I try to shield myself from the details of the trauma. Yet, miles away, tucked under a down comforter, safe in my home, I am traumatized in my sleep by the pain that touches so many lives.
For years I worked hard to open Jeremiah’s Place, a crisis nursery, to join the work of preventing child abuse. The premise behind the work was the vast amount of research showing the imprint of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” on later physical and mental health. The accumulation of traumatic events during childhood has long-lasting consequences. And this is not just being hurt or abused yourself, but witnessing violence. The research is irrefutable. The anecdotes are real. Soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of violence experiencing PTSD. Even intense medical experiences, such as time in an intensive care unit, when very ill are now shown to be linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. And now the rising rates of gun violence and mass shootings add to the trauma and stress for children and adults in this country.
We know the consequences. We see the pain. We hear the stories. Yet the rates of individuals traumatizing hundreds and thousands of innocent people are rising steadily. We as a nation are experiencing repeated and heart-wrenching trauma. It’s common now to hear people ask, “Is there no where safe anymore?” “Where will it happen next?” “How can I find work in another country where my kids and family can be safe?” We now talk about how to teach people to prepare for mass shootings and protect themselves. We train teachers to handle school shootings. We drill medical staff in hospitals to handle huge influxes of wounded patients.
When will we consider prevention instead? When will those who are elected to protect and care for the population stop claiming an inability to do anything about the violence and make a change? When will we stop pretending it’s just related to mental health issues when the evidence argues against that? When will we acknowledge that this country has a problem with a culture of violence, particularly against those perceived as powerless?
We walk around every day hoping it won’t happen to us. Praying that our kids will be safe in their school after boarding the bus. Praying that our family, our friends and our neighbors will come home safely every night.
“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.” (What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings)
This is not the world I want to live in.
This is not the world I want my sons to contend with.
I will continue to work and labor to Be the Change! I don’t have concrete answers for you or for me. But I do know that there is some pretty serious work that needs to be done. I do know that there are some huge shifts in how we look at other people and how we treat other people that need to occur. I do know that I will not give up.
I do know that there are some steps that can be taken. Stay educated on what is happening. Make calls, write letters, or visit your representatives to encourage them to protect the innocent. Join a group like Everytown for Gun Safety or Moms Demand Action.
Reach out to neighbors and build your community. Volunteer where your passion guides you. Stand for others and promote dignity and respect.
Hope never fails.
Love will prevail.
Be the change.