If not now, when?

This is the first time I’ve cried this week. I’ve been so busy being angry, writing scathing letters to politicians, retweeting and sharing and yelling and writing in all caps and trying to use the vocabulary I know instead of the obscenities that come first. But this poem – this anonymous teacher on a Facebook group – this is me, in my classroom, hiding my babies. And now I can’t stop crying. So it’s 1:00 AM, and my eyes are puffy and swollen, and my dogs are snoring, and my cats are prowling the house, and my family is sleeping, and the nocturnal hedgehog is awake. And I’m sitting at the kitchen table. Writing. Finally.

For so long I have wanted to write. I’m good at writing diplomatic emails. I’m pretty good with letters to the editor. I used to be good at essays. I even managed a pretty good, pretty long paper in art history in college. Once I wrote a great story about the time my kid locked himself in the bathroom when he was around 3. I’m still pissed that I lost that file in some computer upgrade. But I’ve always been afraid to put my writing out there for other people. There are trolls out there. I’m afraid of trolls.

“Mom, you should start a blog.” She told me that five years ago while we were waging war together against the weeds in that patch by the driveway that I keep trying to save. And every time I’d work in that patch, I’d remember she said that. And I’d turn it over in my head as I turned over the soil. So I got myself a blog page and a working title. But I didn’t write. No time, I thought. Who would even read it, I thought. Isn’t it just stroking my own ego, the idea that someone else would want to read what I think? Me. Suburban mom. Mediocre teacher. As if. I’m no Glennon, no Bloggess. Besides, it would probably upset my boss if I wrote what I really thought and attached my name to it.

But I guess I’m too old and too pissed off to care what people think anymore. I’m too angry about people who place money ahead of children. Too disillusioned by people whose egos get in the way of doing the jobs we trusted them to do. Too disappointed by people who just don’t want to rock the boat, even though there are so many damn boats that need to be rocked. So here I am. Troll away.

Anonymous Teacher whose poem was published on the MADBATS Facebook page, this one’s for you. I hope some day I learn your name so I can give you credit. Your words made me finally cry this week. And when I stopped crying, I started writing again. Thank you.

“Gun Violence”, by Anonymous Teacher –

(free verse written by a public school music teacher trying to feel again in the wake of the 18th school shooting of 2018)
My classroom 30 kids full
Andra Day in surround sound
I’ll rise up
Rise like the day
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you
They weren’t prepared
I told them to think of an obstacle
Something in their life that they rose against
And some of those obstacles are so so great that we are all taken aback
My lyric sheets are spattered with their tears
My students
My living breathing students who all have somebody to love and somebody who loves them (me)
Turning off the lights
Locking the door
Stay quiet my loves
It’s just a drill
Until the day it’s not a drill
And you’ll know it’s not a drill
Because you’ll hear the shots
And you’ll panic
And I’ve already planned
For how I’ll calm us down
Because it might save our lives
At least for a little while
I’ve planned where you’ll sit
In this cold cinderblock room
Once warm and lively
Now potentially the last place we’ll ever see
You’ll hide away from the door
Away from the windows
Away from the middle of the floor
Lined up under the chalk boards
Behind my desk
I’ll sit closest to the door
I tell you it’s so I can protect you
In reality I know in my heart that even when I’m shot down
With an AR-15
My sacrifice won’t have been enough
To save you
Or I could tell you to run to safety
We’re close enough to the outside door
You could make a break for it
There’s trees and a neighborhood
Surely you’d have a better chance than staying here
Let him come upon an empty classroom and find no prey
Let him choose someone else
He has so much time
So many seconds to rip this world apart and fill it with memories you never asked for
He will just choose someone else
That gun gives him so many seconds
To choose all the someone elses
There are hands to those screams
I’ve held those hands
High fived
Fist bumped
I don’t know if those hands are still warm
I don’t know if they still look like hands
The shots will get closer
I may have told you to run by now
I may not have
I shouldn’t have waited
I ran through how this day would go in my head
I still don’t know what I should do
I don’t know
I don’t know
All I can do is be the last loving adult my students ever see
If you cannot hide
If you cannot flee
You’re supposed to fight
I don’t know what good it does
He has an AR-15
This is a music room
We have plastic mallets with yarn ball tops
Heavy bass metallophone bars
My half empty water bottle
Two pairs of scissors
Bodies that could bleed out too fast to be saved in the aftermath
We are not trained fighters
I am a musician
They are children
He has an AR-15
It wouldn’t matter much if all 31 of us were karate gods
He has an AR-15
Maybe while we sit
I’ll sing
In my head of course
Because maybe if he cannot hear us he will not shoot open the door of the room
And maybe you’ll sing in your head too
We’ll spend these crucial moments perfectly synced with the audiation skills I taught you every. damn. day.
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you
For you
For you…..
For…………….

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16

What I got but didn’t want

Or did I

The thought flickers at the edges

That maybe I did want it

But for all the wrong reasons

Like the As Seen On TV

That you simply must have but

When it arrives it isn’t at all

What you thought it was

All shiny and exciting and everyone wants one

So you pay the shipping and handling and

Wait the six-to-eight-weeks and

You unbox it and get

Cut by the cardboard and

It’s not as big and pretty as

It was on TV but now

You’re stuck with it

 

It wasn’t what I thought

I didn’t want it

But oh, I did

 

Spring “break”

As soon as I heard about the March For Our Lives, I asked Maggie if she would be interested in going. No promises, I said, but maybe we could get a cheap hotel in Maryland the night before and drive in just for the day. Later I asked Rick if he’d mind if Maggie and I went, and to my surprise, he said, let’s all go. Let’s make a trip of it and stay in DC for a few days. We had been several years ago, but she didn’t remember much of it. When we discovered that the boys wouldn’t be able to come, we decided to let Maggie invite some friends. That’s how I came to be in an overstuffed SUV going east on the turnpike. Sophomore girls do not know how to travel light.

From our lovely rental townhouse in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, I swear I passed Susan Stamberg on the street Saturday morning. We hopped on the Metro with our protest signs (Me: Arm me with Music, Art, & Theatre! Maggie: We have a right to learn without fear!) and found like-minded folks right away. When we got to Pennsylvania Avenue around 9:30, we were dismayed to find that we couldn’t get close to the stage. Fortunately there were huge video screens and speakers set up, so we claimed a spot on the curb near the Canadian embassy. We sang along with the playlist and read a myriad of clever signs as we waited for the main event at noon. It wasn’t until later, when we saw an aerial photo of the massive crowd, that we realized we were in the first twenty percent of the nearly 800,000 people jammed into the street. From the Capitol to the Ellipse, it was solid humanity.IMG_6890IMG_6887

I had been following the Parkland kids on Twitter since their first rally just two days after their town became the latest in a too-long list that began with Columbine and included Sandy Hook and Sutherland Springs. I’d seen Cameron Kasky and Emma González online, and I had quickly found David Hogg, Delaney Tarr, Sarah Chadwick, Jaclyn Corin, and many others. I was a little concerned that the rally would be mostly stars, although I was thrilled that so many famous people were directing attention toward the cause. I admit I fangirled when I found out that Ben Platt and Lin-Manuel Miranda would be performing “Found/Tonight”.  But these kids… there are no words.

Student after student took the stage to speak about the ridiculous situation we find ourselves in, in which gun violence research is banned from government funding, in which geese have more protection from guns than average citizens, in which 12-year-olds can purchase semi-automatic rifles at gun shows without so much as a parent’s permission. The privileged, suburban, mostly white students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alternated with students of color from urban schools around the country who have faced gun violence every day of their lives. And as each one told his or her unique story, the case for sensible gun law reform grew stronger and stronger. Each and every one of them was poised, informed, and passionate. I hardly remember Common and Vic Mensa. Ariana Grande is an afterthought. Even Ben and Lin, as much as I adore them both, are not the memory that I keep coming back to.

When I think about the March For Our Lives on March 24, 2018, in Washington, DC, what resonates in my mind is the silence as Emma González stood, wordless, at the microphone. 800,000 people on Pennsylvania Avenue stood silently with her. We heard her sniffle and we saw enormous teardrops slide down her face on the jumbotron. We felt the deep pain of these children who have seen what no one should see. We felt the loss with them. And when Emma explained that from the time she took the stage until she spoke again, six minutes and twenty seconds had elapsed, the full weight of the destructive power of that weapon came to rest on all of our shoulders. The same amount of time the 19-year-old former student of MSDHS took to eliminate seventeen lives and forever alter countless others. The time it takes me to drive to the grocery store. Less than the time it takes to drive my daughter to school. Less than the time to drive to her school from the police station.

If, after hearing these children’s stories, you still believe that arming teachers is the solution, you are not listening. If you believe that semi-automatic weapons, large magazines, and bump stocks should be readily available to the general public, you do not understand the damage these weapons do to human and animal flesh. If you feel that universal background checks and three-day waiting periods place too much burden on sport shooters, you need to learn patience and planning ahead. If you think that your right to bear arms trumps the inalienable right of any human being to be alive, you need to have your head examined.

Contrary to reports in some outlets, the Parkland kids don’t want to repeal the Second Amendment. They just want to feel safe from gun violence in their schools, their neighborhoods, and their country. That’s why I went to Washington last week. Because I don’t think that’s too much for kids to ask from us.

 

What’s the worst that could happen?

Every once in a while, I start thinking about something, and it seems like it would be fun to write about and share with people. But then I think, no, no one cares what I think, and isn’t it presumptuous to publish your random thoughts, as though the world cares what you have to say? So I don’t. But sometimes I write anyway, even if I don’t share. And then every once in a while, I’ll write a letter to the editor, or an email, or a newsletter article, and someone will say I’m a good writer. And I remember that I like to write. And I entertain those thoughts of publishing what I write. So today, while I was working on a particularly challenging patch of yard that I keep trying to turn into a flower bed, I was having some of those thoughts that started to turn into kind of a story. And I thought about starting a blog. And I said to my daughter, Hey, you’re a writer. Should I start a blog? And she said, Yes! Do it! So here I am. What’s the worst that could happen?