@ChrisGueits was a 2008 Los Angeles corps member and is Co-Founder of Roots of Hope. This post has been adapted from a personal reflection on Facebook last Friday.
"For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory."
I’m embarrassed to admit it. The news from Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday didn’t tear me apart. At least not at first.
I’m a former elementary school teacher. I love kids. They’re pure and precious. My sister was so shaken she called to send her love. My girlfriend couldn’t wait to hug her 6 year-old brother. My goddaughter is in the 5th grade.
It should have hit home like it did for so many. After all, it’s not too hard to imagine how helpless this must feel for parents and the families of those who were directly affected. Call me desensitized, but I didn’t react.
As I attempted to make sense of my (unemotional) response, I did the normal routine. Check out Facebook. What’s the word on Twitter? It’s not a stretch to say that my newsfeeds, like yours, were monopolized for stretches by Friday's news.
Shock. Horror. Pain. Sorrow.
Questioning. Reflection. Theories. Responses.
All of what you might expect in response to tragedy.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether this event would remotely impact their lives afterwards. I hope it does. I hope that whatever people are feeling, pledging, and wishing for is felt as keenly a month from now as it did on Friday. If Columbine, 9/11, Va. Tech, Aurora, and Clackamas are any indication, probably not.
I read some theories on motives and solutions.
If you think some people are just “evil,” well carry on. Maybe everyone will find God some day. Society’s moral fiber has significantly decayed? That’s too easy a cop-out for me. Video games, movies, and TV promote violence? Sure, so did old westerns. Here’s one that kept coming up in the “liberal” bastions that are my social media feeds: gun control.
[Full disclosure: I’m a disenfranchised, registered Republican. I voted for President Obama both times. I’m at peace with my own contradictions and act on a mix of my conscience and perceived rationality. I’m often wrong. I’m okay with that. Usually, I learn from it.]
Normally, I might be inclined to run with this crowd. The NRA is an easy, and often deserving, target. Assault weapons in non-military contexts make no sense to me. I probably wouldn’t know much about weapons if it weren’t for some of the music I listen to. And given the data on gun violence in the U.S., intelligently crafted gun control legislation (as part of a broader solution), sounds logical to me.
Except that won’t prevent this from happening again.
Do large walls stop illegal immigration? Do wars on drugs prevent the rise of cartels? Do wars on terror end terrorism? Does suicide awareness alone prevent suicide? Did enacting new safety protocols at Sandy Hook Elementary School prevent a massacre of children?
Gun violence is a monumental issue in our country, but ultimately one I am skeptical can be addressed with a narrow gun control approach.
There is a deeper issue that remains in the shadows and merits our attention: mental health.
We’re taught many important things as kids. One thing I can’t remember learning - or even talking much about—as a kid is how to resolve the conflicts perceived inside our heads. Sometimes they grow and grow and spiral and feel completely unmanageable. Then what?
I believe my background in sports and a sense of faith has helped me manage the ups and downs of life. But even that hasn’t kept me from experiencing depression. I suspect that’s the case for most Americans too, even if no one acknowledges it. What’s worse, mental health is still taboo. Seeking it is perceived as a sign of weakness, extreme, or unnecessary. As if we’re not all weak at times.
I hope we can begin to transform how we view mental health. It starts with speaking openly and honestly in our communities about the role of mental health in our own lives. As we do so, we give others permission to do the same. Practicing mental health is not just for the “weak” or clinically diagnosed, but like physical fitness, an essential part of everyone’s health.
Here’s what I hope for now. May those little souls be resting peacefully somewhere. May their families find some form of peace and purpose to move forward.
For the rest of us? May we explore a conversation about how to handle the problems that no one else sees. And may we come to a place where mental health is as celebrated as physical fitness.