December 16, 2012

Thoughts on Newtown

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:

"There 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 children, period.

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 community.

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 own."

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.