Today's post is written by my niece, Tana Becker, who is a teacher in the Boston school system. As a blogger I realize that I am veering off course but I also know that what happened this past Friday has permeated our thoughts and effected us all on a very deep level.
I bring you Tana:
seems to be a debate right now about whether to focus on gun control or mental
health. Why is it one or the other? Both are so important and relevant to this
situation. Both are issues that we need to act on.
I don’t understand the need to own a gun or to defend oneself with weapons, but
I know that so many Americans feel strongly about this, so I can respect it to
a certain extent. Growing up an animal and nature-loving vegetarian, I also
don’t understand hunting. But I grew up in a rural area where on the first day
of hunting season school was empty, and it wasn’t uncommon to come home and see
a deer hanging from my neighbor’s tree—so I can respect that too. But let’s be
real—all you need for hunting is a rifle. And as for defense, there is nothing
“defensive” about owning automatic weapons that can kill 27 people in a matter
of minutes. There is no place for that in our society. ABSOLUTELY NONE. No
reason why that should be legal. No good that can come of it. And no reason why
anyone should own more than one gun. So when people say, “I have the right to
defend myself, that’s why I own all these guns,” or “that’s why I own these
automatic weapons,” they’re really saying something else—something about power,
about fascination with the ability to destruct, about the potential to be very offensive,
and not defensive at all.
As far as mental health goes, I am a high school teacher in an under-resourced
district, where most students fall under the poverty line, and where many have
experienced violence, the instability of moving several times per year, and
homelessness. In a school of almost 600 students where these are the kinds of
experiences many of them have, how many social workers do you think we would
have? One, two, twenty? Well, we have none. Not a single full time school
social worker or counselor. No drug intervention program, no trauma recovery
program, no resources for homeless youth. We do have partnerships with
community organizations in which counselors come into school 1-2 days per
week—but with absenteeism such a huge issue, especially for the students in
greatest need, students are often not present the day the counselor comes in.
There are no resources to follow up on these students with home visits or the
interventions they need.
In addition to all the “regular” problems that many have, there are some, as
there are in all schools, with more serious mental health problems. What can we
do to protect ourselves from the potential actions of these students or others
in the community? I don’t know. My principal, in the past, has asked for
alarmed doors and other security measures. The district has turned her down.
This type of request would never be turned down in a suburban school district.
This brings me to another point. I am tired of hearing about what a quaint,
affluent, “safe” community Newtown is. The tragedy here is that 27 people were
killed, and that 20 of them were innocent, beautiful children—not that they
were wealthy, suburban children. This would have been equally tragic had it
happened in an urban neighborhood, or a poor rural community—and the news media
is responsible for conveying that message—that this was the senseless death of
And now to the important point—the children. I find it easier to go on about
gun control and mental health than to write about the immediacy of the tragedy,
which is the horrific, violent end to 6 and 7 year old lives. I find it easier
to distract myself by staying plastered to the news than to turn off the TV and
just sit in silence and feel how I really feel.
Which brings me to the question of prayer. I am not part of a formal religious
faith. I grew up in a secular, half Christian half Jewish home. But I have
respect for religion, and I believe in God in the sense that I believe in
beauty, light, and healing, and the ability for people to come together in
As I lit the Chanukah lights last night, I asked myself, what place does
“light” have on a day like today? I thought, I could remind myself that light
and beauty still exist in the world even when tragedies like this happen—but
although it’s important to remember light and beauty moving forward, it didn’t
seem helpful to force myself to think that way when I wasn’t feeling it. Then I
tried to think of the candles as a celebration of the children’s lives—and in
the coming days and weeks it will be very important to celebrate them—but it
seemed too soon. Then I thought about meditating, where the point is to “just
be” with whatever thoughts and emotions come to pass. That also seemed
pointless. I feel what I think a lot of
us are feeling—powerless. We can’t
drive to Connecticut to volunteer, we can’t send a donation to the Red Cross.
There is nothing we can do.
So when people say that they are praying for the children and the families, I
am still trying to figure out how to do that. I think what they are doing is
asking God to help the families heal from their grief, and help the victims’
souls be at peace. This seems like the best thing to do, and I’m trying to
figure out how I can do it in a way that feels authentic to me. The thing I
keep coming back to is that I just need to love them—love the families as if
they were my brothers and sisters, and love the children who witnessed the
violence, and the children who did not survive the violence, as if they were my
Beautifully said Tana. Thank you for your thoughts and for your contribution to Lines of Beauty. I join you in sending love to the victims, their families & friends, and to everyone at the Sandy Hook school, especially the young children who witnessed what no one should ever have to see.