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Trauma

Updated: Jun 8

Note: this post has nothing to do with fiber, and everything to do with current events


When I was in academia, school shootings ranked high among my greatest fears and were a source of crippling anxiety. They weren’t the sole reason I chose to leave, but they were a definite factor in my decision-making process.


I remember being a grad student in my Masters program when Columbine happened. The reality that a school of all places was no longer a safe haven was shocking, but mass shootings were a novelty, not something we had to train for. I remember being on the staircase in the English department building when my friend and colleague Jack told me about Virginia Tech. This was in my first year as an assistant professor. And in the time since, sites of tragedy—which now include movie theaters, night clubs, supermarkets, synagogues, churches—have become marked by their place names: Majory Stoneman Douglas, Sandyhook, Pulse Nightclub, Squirrel Hill, the Buffalo Walmart, so very many others, and now Uvalde Elementary School.

Mass casualty events have become so commonplace in our world that every place I go, I calculate where the exits are, where the safest places to go into lockdown are, how to quickly and safely evacuate bystanders. I’ve even been rather vocal at former workplaces about the need for safety protocols and training, and I’m disappointed to say that much of what I’ve witnessed and experienced at these former workplaces in terms of their emergency preparedness is subpar at best. I’ve also been pretty vocal and critical of a clear lack of safety protocols (things like classrooms where the doors open out rather than in so barricading isn’t effective or people not understanding the need to lockdown rather than sending their charges out when they have no idea where the shooter or or even how many shooters there are). Prior to opening the store, the only workplace I was at to actually require staff to learn the locations of things like fire extinguisher, fire alarms, first aid stations, emergency exits, and the like was Mercyhurst Prep, and I remain supremely disappointed that at two of the other institutions I worked at, I had to take it upon myself to locate these things, that they weren’t part of normal training.


And, no, we shouldn’t have to live that way, but pretending that these events are merely isolated and “can’t happen here” is foolish and irresponsible. Yes, something needs to be done. A lot of somethings, to be honest, because you can’t rely solely on gun law reform, or mental health availability and evaluation, or training, or safety protocols, etc. These things need to work in tandem and be interconnected. Ignoring the problem and throwing “thoughts and prayers” at it won’t make crime go away or bring back the innocent lives lost or irrevocably altered as a result.


It’s easy to despair over the mass shootings that have happened in just the past week. One was close to us in our neighbor Buffalo. One saw 19 precious children and two teachers mercilessly killed. Our collective trauma can anesthetize us, make us feel numb and helpless, frustrated and stuck.

And it’s okay to sit in that uncomfortable, sad space for awhile. But we can’t stay there. we can’t forget that while we are in shock and mourn these tragedies there are people for whom these events hit much closer to home, for whom these losses aren’t abstract news soundbites. There are humans who are trying to make sense of unimaginable pain and loss, whose grief is immediate and visceral. Not enough was done to prevent their trauma. Not enough was done to ensure the safety of their loved ones. So for them, we need to do better, be better, stop the knee-jerk reactions that only focus on one part of the problem and devise a constellation of solutions that function together so that we don‘t simply wait for the next tragedy to unfold.


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