Too Close for Comfort
“Oh, how the world today needs such simple reminders: Be kind. Treat all people with respect. Let go of hate and let others live their lives in peace.” ~ Brendon Burchard
Our daughter works as an administrative nurse at a school for young women in Omaha, Nebraska. It is a safe haven and treatment center for women seeking the skills they need to overcome physical and mental abuse, trauma, addiction and mental health issues. Students are provided with the tools they need to make healthy choices in all aspects of their lives, and gain greater control over their futures. But one Friday afternoon in February, a man fired three shots through the front door of the Administrative Office in order to gain access. Students and staff members ran for cover or locked themselves behind closed doors as he made his way to the office of his estranged wife. When he realized she wasn’t at work that day, he turned the gun on himself and ended his life, there in the hallway, outside her office door.
Our daughter was with most of the students in the cafeteria when it happened. They were immediately on lockdown and assumed it was another drill, taking all the necessary precautions; locking themselves in, and hunkering down. As time passed, and it became clear they were in an emergency situation, our daughter texted us to let us know she and her students were safe.
Two weeks later, my husband and I were in Kansas City visiting our oldest daughter and her family. We volunteered to pick up her children from school and as soon as we left, we received the news that the elementary school was in lockdown. When we arrived, we were told to line up our vehicles in the drop off area by the front door and the children would be escorted to us by school staff. As we waited, we noticed the police tape that bordered a section of the parking lot. There was strong law enforcement presence on foot, in cars and overhead in a circling helicopter. There was a news team there from a local station but the only information we could confirm was that the threat was outside the school and under control. Once our grandsons were safely in the vehicle, we took the five-minute drive to their home. As soon as we pulled into the driveway, the sounds of sirens and emergency vehicles broke open and we knew something had happened at the school. A young man had taken aim from a home across the street. He shot out the windows of a vehicle in the parking lot, hit the roof over the front door of the school, then turned his gun on the police before they returned fire and he was apprehended. Once again, the only one injured was the shooter and for that, we feel very fortunate, but the effects on grade school children who hear gunshots on their playground, will be with them for a lifetime.
When I was a child in elementary school, we had fire and tornado drills. The disruption to our day had little effect long term, as we marched single-file outside to our designated spot on the asphalt during the fire drill. When the tornado sirens sounded, I took the preparation a little more seriously because for me, tornados were terrifying. I hoped I would never have to sit against the wall of an interior hallway without the comfort of my parents sitting next to me. Today, our schools, our workplaces, and our churches practice protocol for active shooter situations. What goes through the mind of a six-year-old child who is taught to slip beneath a desk or huddle in a closet in the event that an armed intruder finds his way into the school? When I was young, the “boogie man” only visited at night, in my dreams. A creation of my imagination that frightened me, yes, but my parents could truthfully claim that he didn’t exist. Today the boogie man is real, and he shows up unexpectedly, armed with a weapon and a grudge.
When did guns and other weaponry become so easily accessible and widely accepted as the new, best way to even a score or work out a difference? When did human life lose its sanctity? How did we get to this juncture where our kids are being taught how to avoid being shot at school? At what point in time did we instinctively consider our exit strategy and eye the closest cover at an entertainment venue? Do you ever wonder, as you sit in stillness in your place of worship, if there is someone in your midst waiting for the opportunity to punish the congregation for their religious beliefs? I do.
From the moment we emerge from the womb, humans are a blank slate. We are born without prejudice, hatred and intolerance. In the same vein, we enter the world without compassion, acceptance and love. We might instinctively want to be touched and lovingly cared for, but those needs are initially met, or squandered, by the people who raise us. The seed for loving may be present at birth, but it must be carefully cultivated in order to fully bloom.
Is it within our ability to express kindness to ourselves? Do we practice, with consistency, respecting our bodies and our minds through healthy living? Do we refrain from harsh judgment of our own abilities and limitations? Can we freely accept the uniqueness of our bodies and the capacity of our minds?
The Dalai Lama said, “If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” I believe his words. I believe his words because meditation is the way we look inside. We direct love and peacefulness toward ourselves. Through contemplation and concentration, we can set aside the negative chatter that speaks with false authority and hear the song of clarity. And once we are practiced at loving on the inside, kindness will spill out, acceptance will naturally flow, and hate will have no place to grow.