There are always three players in violence: victim, perpetrator, and witness. We are the latter. Victims are those maimed and killed and those family members and loved ones close to the harmed.

Truly, I was going to write on a more cheery and uplifting idea like climate destruction and human greed, but the events in Texas will not let go. One more action of gun violence in America.  Especially dramatic and gruesome, but just on more of a long list. More and more, we are a nation of pain and divisiveness, of overwhelming tragedies and extreme reactions.  All the while as we are mere mortals trying our best to care for family and build careers. I will not add political fuel here or remonstrate for moral high ground. I only begin with two questions asked in all humility: How do we carry the sadness for others more immediately affected? What are the interconnections between gun violence and us?

Carrying sadness for others revolves around the nexus of each person’s capacity for empathy. Like most human experiences and capacities, we find our own ability to be empathetic along a sliding scale. More empathy within tribe, less usually outside a given tribe. The children, teachers, and families of Uvalde? We each feel that interconnection based on our unique experience, understanding, and culture. And we know those only to the extent that we know ourselves. Even here in tragedy, or especially here in tragedy, I call on all of us to the moral responsibility of Know Thyself.  

I have two particular connections to Ulvade.  First, I was a fourth grade teacher for several years in my happy teaching life. Forth graders are a particularly bright moment in our humanity. Just a few seconds with a picture of one of the Uvalde victims and you will know what I mean. Forth graders are this beautiful focus of young minds growing in capability and curiosity. Are beautiful moments of unconditional love and the most natural outflow of care for others. Are beautiful moments of hope for a world that can become better. I owe my fourth-grade students a life-long debt for being welcomed into this world of human hope, potential, and love.

Second, I am a victim of school gun violence. A decade before Columbine and here in Oklahoma City. I stood beside a seventh grader trying to protect him as another seventh grader fired five bullets into his body. The young man survived after a long recovery. The shooter was a young man drawing blood for gang membership.  The three of us are tied inextricably for life. This connection for me to Ulvade is a connection of self-reflection. I am filled with gratitude for my time as a fourth grade teacher, and I perhaps better understand my own calling in being a voice for nonviolence. One, sunlight from sunlight and the other, sunlight from shadow.

Research bears out the root of my school violence experience as gang related has morphed over decades to a root of young person’s experience of bullied or bullying, compounded with the young person’s complex experience of social media as affect and influence.  I understand mental illness is part of the national conversation, but I remind us that a mentally ill person is 8-10 times more likely to be the victim of a violent attack.  As a witness, I am responsible to follow and reflect upon all the threads laid bare in the Uvalde tragedy, and that takes me to understanding our society’s support or lack of support for our young people. My man, Jiddhu Krishnamurti, always grounds me in the one question for all of us: “Do we truly love our children?” Not sure about you, but I am very challenged and very unhappy as to the answer.

There are always three players in violence: victim, perpetrator, and witness. We are the latter. Victims are those maimed and killed and those family members and loved ones close to the harmed. Victimhood ripples out in concentric circles while sounding deep into the depths of human, individual suffering. The human courage called upon for survivors of violence is almost beyond comprehension. But it is their calling to do with as they can.

The perpetrator does not come out of some social vacuum. He or she is us in many ways.  Yes, we do not step into the breach of consciousness that allows for a monstrous act, but we are close enough to understand if we look. Certainly, the relationship and responsibilities we lay down as our empathy and our citizenship ripples out to the greater society.  It is good that we hold in our hearts other victims right now: Columbine, Parkland, FL, Sandy Hook.  And as witnesses, let’s not stop there. Hold in our hearts the daily victims by gun violence as not mass shooting but just everyday death and tragedy at the hands of gun violence. Hold in our hearts the society that creates the violence our towns and cities know on a daily basis. 

There will be a sunshine to come from Ulvade. If we pay attention, we will see an Hispanic culture teach us strength and healing and love and moving forward. If we watch and witness. In 2006, a little talked about school shooting occurred in an Amish town in Pennsylvania, five children killed, five injured. Unless we have read “Amish Grace”, we have little connection to that tragedy and the possibility of forgiveness and compassion as a different social reaction. I only remind us of this because transformation for the better can come from surprising places!

As the OCCC community, I know that we send our heartfelt condolences to the Uvalde community. I particularly want to remember the teachers and the blessings they were as Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia. May the spirit of those fourth graders hang in the air of our experience being teachers themselves of hope, love, and possibility. We cannot move forward for self and others without the knowledge that from shadow can be sunlight. The victims are deeply burdened with finding light in their own forward journeys. We, the witnesses, however, have enough distance and enough empathy to do the other hard work of moving a society forward for the love of our children.

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