Thursday, February 15, 2018

Swimming with Sharks

I’ve loved sharks since I was a kid. JAWS was one of my favorite movies (still is) and Shark Week was second only to Christmas on the list of most exciting annual events. Maybe it’s because of this interest that I don’t swim in the ocean. Disclaimer: sharks live in the ocean. Another disclaimer: sharks eat stuff. I am stuff. No thank you.
Statistics say that my odds of being attacked by a shark are 1 in 3,748,067. I am more likely to be killed by fireworks. Statistics would tell me that the most dangerous thing I will do if swimming in the ocean, will be driving there or, even more likely, that I’ll have a stroke somewhere along the way. I still don’t swim in the ocean. I don’t want to be the 1 in 3,748,067.
Lots of people find it worth the risk. They all know that sharks live in the ocean. They know there is a small, very, very small chance that they could be attacked. They find it worth the risk. The average risk is always there because…see above disclaimers about where sharks live and what they eat. Sometimes, however, sharks are seen in an area. When this happens, flags go up. These flags mean that your chances of being attacked are higher. Fewer people go in the water. Some people still risk it. Sometimes, when sharks are seen in an area, they put up shark nets. Have you seen a shark net? Have you seen a shark? It’s a nice thought, it might deter the sharks a little but it’s honestly insufficient. A net is not stronger than a shark…at least not the type of shark that you worry about attacking people. But people swim and they feel safer, until there’s an attack.
After an attack, the flags and the nets are no longer seen as enough. We need to do more. We leave the flags up and we repair the nets but now we post lifeguards to keep people out of the water, we send out helicopters to survey for sharks and we impose swimming bans.
The odds of experiencing a school shooting in a US high school in any given year, is 1 in 21,000. Where are the helicopters? Where are the swimming bans?
I know we are talking about it. I know the flags are up and the nets are out. But we have had eight school shootings, eight attacks, in 2018 so far and there is not a helicopter in sight. Everyone is talking. “When will this stop?” “What will it take for change to happen?” Lots of pointing fingers at one political party or another. “It’s the guns.” “You can’t stop crazy people.” Meanwhile, seventeen people are burying their loved ones. There are seventeen empty chairs around seventeen dinner tables. Somewhere there is a mother, a brother, a grandfather standing in a closet with shirts hanging neatly, shirts that will be boxed up and given away, shirts that smell just like their child, their sister, their grandchild.  My oldest child is in high school. I’d never be able to smell apple pie or hear the Psych theme song again. I can’t even say that my heart would re-break because my heart would never be anything but broken. Not in this life.
I don’t pretend to have all the answer. Is it taking away guns? Is this just the be expected in this fallen world? I don’t know. What I do know is that I can walk onto my high school campus, generally unnoticed. No one questions who I am or why I’m there. There are no lifeguards. What I do know is that I can go into the office at an elementary school and say I’m there for lunch and they smile and give me a sticker with my name on it. There are no helicopters. What I do know is that I go to a community college and I walk in, right by the security desk, every day I’m on campus, carrying a backpack and no one gives me a second glance. There is no swimming ban.
Guns are controversial and guns are complicated. I’m not talking about guns. There are things that are not controversial and we aren’t doing them. We can lock doors. We can have security. We can know who is walking into our schools. We can know what is coming through the doors. We can talk to people. We can listen to people. These are things we can do.
Sometimes, shark attacks come with little to no warning. It’s a risk everyone takes swimming in the ocean (or the Zambizi River). Sometimes there are no flags and no nets because there have never been shark sightings. Sometimes, there are warning signs. We know there are sharks nearby. Our responsibility isn’t just to try to control the shark’s behavior. It’s to keep the shark away from swimmers. I live in a small town. My son goes to high school with roughly 2,500 other children. His average odds of being a victim of a school shooting are 1 in 21,000. If someone opens fire at his high school, his odds are now 1 in 2,500. If someone opens fire in his classroom, his odds are now 1 in 30. It’s time to station the lifeguards. It’s time to send out the helicopter. It’s time to keep swimmers out of the water.
Our kids need to learn more than “don’t bully”. They need to learn how to communicate effectively, how to process feelings, how to process anger. Our staff needs more than our constant barrage of emails asking what’s being done, they need our support and our presence. Fundraisers need to go for more than new band uniforms and better technology, they need to go for increased security measures. Getting appropriate mental health care for those who struggle with mental illness is going to require a level of collaboration that is not occurring, but needs to. This goes beyond politics and it goes beyond gun laws and it goes beyond Facebook soapboxes. It’s time to stop calling on politicians to be lifeguards and start earning our certification. We cannot always keep danger out but we don’t need to hold the door open for it.
My heart and prayers are with the victims of violence. My mind is on what I can do. My arms are around my children. It’s time to get out of the water.

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