Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Toy Soldiers and Real Life Heroes

Elzhi - Life's a Bitch

Some time starting in middle school, I unknowingly practiced lucid dreaming (I say unknowingly because I didn't know there was a name for it). Most nights, as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I would envision the following scenario: a group of bad guys with machine guns had taken over Kennelly School and it was up to me--and some of my friends--to stop them (obviously this scenario was inspired by the 1991 classic Sean Astin film, Toy Soldiers). By repeatedly envisioning this scenario on a nightly basis, after I fell asleep, the scenario would often play out in my dream. I can clearly remember the masked men taking over the auditorium and several classrooms. I remember using my knowledge of the building's layout to come up with a plan to save everybody. I remember almost wanting it to happen in real life just so I could save everyone. It never occurred to me that some of my friends and classmates, or even myself, wouldn't make it out alive. With lucid dreaming, you have some control over the events in your dream, so I would always be able to save every last person inside the building.

No matter how often I dreamed it, however, I never actually thought there was a possibility it could happen. That all changed on April 20, 1999. The events at Columbine High School brought the nightmare of school shootings to life. There were monsters in the real world, and sometimes those monsters attack the most helpless among us. Several school shootings and various other mass shootings have followed in the years since, assuring us that Columbine was no fluke.

On December 14, 2012, we were reminded once again that true evil does exist, and it can strike at any time. But this time, the location of the shooting, the age of most of the victims, and the lack of any real connection between the victims and the shooter made it that much more nerve-wracking and earth-shattering.

In the thirteen years since Columbine, mass shootings have almost lost their shock value. We aren't surprised to hear about another one every 6 months. This year alone we saw shootings outside of the Empire State Building, at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and at a mall in Portland, Oregon. Portland happened just three days before Newtown.

But something is different about the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in quiet Newtown, Connecticut. The age of the victims makes a difference. These were little kids and their teachers; lives cut short by a mentally disturbed young man with a high powered assault rifle.

Despite all of this, we need to remember that there is more good in this world than we often acknowledge. There are true heroes out there, and they are ordinary people who act extraordinarily when the situation calls for it. At this point we've probably all heard the stories of the heroes of Newtown. It took me a long time to read up on everything because it was simply too much too handle. Also, there was a lot of misinformation and exaggeration immediately afterwards, which was a disservice to all of the victims and their families. There's no need to embellish the stories of the heroes involved in saving numerous lives. Heroes like Victoria Soto, the 27 year old teacher who died shielding her students from the bullets of an assault rifle. Heroes like principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach, who both died rushing at the gunman in an attempt to take him down. Heroes like Ann Marie Murphy, whose body was found laying on top of several children who she died trying to protect. Heroes like Mary Ann Jacob, who luckily survived after hiding 18 children in a storage room and barricading the door, so intent on protecting them that she would barely open the door for the police once they eventually cleared the scene. Or like all of the other heroes and innocent souls who lost their lives that day.

I never died saving my school in my dreams. Nobody died. In real life, heroes often give their own lives. At Sandy Hook Elementary, six adults made that ultimate sacrifice. It takes very special people to do such a thing. But we already knew these people were special...they were teachers.

And if Hollywood has taught us anything...

it's that teachers...

are absolutely...


In interviews with family members of the adult victims, almost every story stated that the victims, "died doing what they loved." That's a powerful sentiment and one that I hope someday (in the very distant future) describes my final moments. The statement says a lot about teachers; it indicates that teachers have an implicit understanding that they may have to one day sacrifice their lives for their students (anybody who has corrected 40 research papers in a week will tell you that teachers are ALWAYS sacrificing their lives for their students). It may not be something that teachers think about very much, but I bet that most would agree that an accepted responsibility of any teacher is to protect their students at all costs.

I don't know how this tragedy will affect our schools, our children, our country, but I'm hoping that seeing the worst can bring out the best, and not just for a few days or weeks. Unfortunately, it took less than two weeks for another atrocity to occur, as a gunman in new York set his house ablaze and preyed upon the firefighters trying to save his life on Christmas Eve, so maybe we haven't reached rock bottom yet. I don't know how we will improve as a country, or as individuals, but I'm hopeful that we can. Let's remember the actions of the heroes. These were not actors in a movie, these were real people who gave their lives. Let's remember the outpouring of support that the grieving families, and the entire town, received after the tragedy. People mourned for the innocent victims in places as far away as Pakistan (which, considering the US drone attacks that kill scores of young Pakistani children, brings up an interesting debate about America's penchant for selective mourning, but that's a topic for another article...I'll also leave Chicago's 500 homicides in 2012 for another discussion). There is good in this world, but we need to show it and acknowledge it more often. I feel that people truly want to be good, and they want to see the good in others, but we too often wait for tragedies to show our love and support for our fellow human beings. Let's show love constantly. People come up with these ideas like "26 acts of kindness", and that's great, but kindness should just be the norm. We shouldn't have to be reminded to be kind or have to put some kind of quantitative measure on the amount of kindness we express. 

But I'm all for baby steps. Let's start small. Take the challenge. Make the effort. Maybe that will encourage kindness to take root and spread to the point where bad guys with machine guns in schools only exist in the highly imaginative mind of an adolescent boy who watches too many movies. We need to remember that heroes like Lauren Rousseau and Rachel D'Avino are real, but we should strive for a country in which they don't need to sacrifice their lives for us to recognize their heroism.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

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