I stood in my kitchen listening to the latest news of mass shootings, debates on gun control, and a local protest that happened last night concerning an officer involved shooting, as my sons talked about their first days back to school. Mixed in with the classes they wanted and got, friends who had moved and their first impressions of new teachers, was something different.
A sign of the times showed up when one of my sons announced he was chosen, in the event of an active shooter, to be the “Door Man”. While other students would proceed to hide beneath desks, behind whatever they could find to block incoming bullets, it will be my son who won’t hide. My 16-year-old child has the responsibility, should the nightmare unfold, to access a special closet to arm himself with an aluminum bat before stepping behind the only entrance to the room in preparation for a mentally unstable armed gunman’s breach of the barricade. It would be on his shoulders to protect his friends.
I saw the weight of such a responsibility on his young shoulders. Everything stopped as I sat down to talk with him about how he felt regarding the possibility of having to harm another human who was there for the worst of intentions.
“I wasn’t forced to take the job, Mom. I volunteered,” my son said. I could tell he wasn’t sure if I would approve. As I sat torn between pride that my son would be willing to risk his safety for others and fear of him having to do so, it couldn’t have been clearer what we, as a nation, have done to our children.
Our children are afraid. They walk the halls of an institution that once was a safe place to be. Our hate and instability have bled through the brick walls of our schools and stained what once was a magical time in a child’s life. What should be the most carefree time of their existence now carries the burdens of adult issues and bitter unrest. My children used to only see an aluminum bat as a source of joy in a game played on a beautiful sunny day. Now, that bat has become a weapon. We have failed to protect them, so they now defend themselves.
Years of politically motivated polarizing movements, rallies, protests, and violence have changed nothing but brought further division. Instead of building bridges to solutions we have built walls that separate us from those who feel just a passionately about their cause as we do our own.
Just like a dysfunctional family, each side refusing to back down, we have neglected to look in the middle. There on the front lines of our civil war, amidst the battle of whose lives matter most, between gun control and gun rights, Democrats and Republicans are our children. Believing that our social unrest is not a factor in school violence is a dark hole in the sand to hide. As we yell over the heads of those watching our every move for evidence of how adults resolve conflict, we have failed the next generation. We have taught them nothing but how to fight. When do we teach them how to come together and find a common thread with which to begin the healing of wounds that have scarred our history?
In our endeavor to be heard, each perspective’s need to be the loudest voice in the room has grown to a deafening crescendo that has accomplished nothing more than drowning out our children’s cries for help. What we fail to see is that we all are aboard the same sinking ship. Our children are tethered to our every choice like dinghies to our now dilapidated vessel.
I would never suggest anyone leave behind the beliefs over which they feel the most passionate and become a lukewarm watered-down version. This country was built on passion. I raise my children to stand up, speak up, be the one to instigate change, and do what’s right. But have we lost sight of what we are fighting for and who is truly paying the price for our choices? It’s no longer a question that we fight for change, it’s the how that matters most.
Maybe the first step in change is to stop poking holes in the bottom of the ship. Just…. Stop. We don’t all need to agree with the direction we are sailing to start patching holes.
They will follow our lead. We are robbing them of opportunities to be children at the only time in their lives when they should feel someone unconditionally, totally and completely has their back other than the classmate who volunteers to be the “Door Man”. I, for one, won’t stop looking for answers that put that bat back in the closet and my son back where he belongs; in a seat at a desk being his squirrelly teenage self.
It takes a different kind of movement to go a different direction. We need to show them that the loudest voice in the room isn’t always right. Where are the peacekeepers?
It’s time to step up. It’s time to speak out. It’s time to focus on those caught in the middle. It’s time for the “middle” to become the safest place to be. It’s time to stop swinging weapons with infants in our arms. It’s time to care more about the people than the cause. It’s time to realize our children go down with the ship we sink. They are watching from the middle. What do we want them to see?
Kelly Ratai is a journalist who has worked for five publications over 12 years in Minnesota as well as with the Minnesota Governor’s Office on the Explore Minnesota and Governor’s Fishing Opener campaigns.