It has been 15 years since the 9/11 attacks, nearly three months since the shooting at Orlando’s Pulse and one week since a 14-year-old girl shot a fellow student and then killed herself at her Texas middle school.
Sept. 11, 2001 is burned into our collective American memory. It was a time of fear, utter disbelief, pain, but also a time when we came together to declare that we would not stand for such acts of violence on American soil. How utterly deflating it is to arrive at a place, 15 years later, when the attacks are regularly being carried out from within by men, women and even by a 14-year-old child.
Two years ago, I moved to Seattle from Apopka, Florida. It’s a 30-minute drive from my childhood home to downtown Orlando.
I found out about the Pulse massacre the morning of my goddaughter’s baptism. It was the first time that a shooting had hit so close to home. For the first time, the victim could have been my childhood neighbor, my friend or even a family member. I was shaken and so confused, and yet I was required to not dwell on the 49 lives for a few hours in order to celebrate a new life.
It was the same spectrum of emotions and reactions that I felt years earlier as a middle school student when our teachers told us during homeroom that two planes had purposefully flown into the twin towers, killing thousands of people. The next day, students went back to learning, teachers went back to teaching and people around the U.S. attempted to stumble back into a recognizable routine, all in an unspoken commitment to regain control in the chaos.
But what if our determination to resume our lives “before (insert tragedy here)” is one of the reasons that we find ourselves existing in this grim reality where shootings and violence has become a staple of the American life? If so, what’s the answer?
Stricter gun laws, obviously. Yet, we are missing, or simply refusing to address, the underlying issues. We must talk. We need to become comfortable talking about the uncomfortable, starting at a very young age. We need to implement more mindfulness and positive discipline curriculums in schools. We must educate ourselves on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE scores) and recognize how trauma directly affects who we become as adults.
We should teach our children how to identify and cope with their fears, misconceptions and feelings of anger. We must stop pretending that we live in a post-racial society. We need to lead with kindness and must strive to transform a hate-filled world into love. We are skilled in the art of suppressing feelings and repressing realities and our children deserve another way.
I do believe a different way is possible and I’m reminded of this when I look into the eyes of the people I work with each day. I feel faith in humanity when attending community events that spark hope. I felt hope after the Pulse attack when people lined up for miles, eager to donate blood.
I saw it in the shaken LGBT community uniting to plan vigils all over the U.S. And I saw it a month ago when I returned to Florida and noticed the “Stand with Orlando” and “Pride” bumper stickers plastered on cars, trucks and vans. Local artists created stunning art as a way to honor the victims of the shooting and the mother of a victim spoke at the Democratic National Convention and pleaded for people to face the violence. Just last week, an Orlando survivor was invited to be a guest on “Ellen,” and he shared details from that awful night that he will never be able to forget.
Do we remember 15 years ago when we made a collective promise to never forget? Now is the time to admit that this violence is not our forgotten past, but our present truth. Let us unite and figure out how to eliminate it from our future.
Faith Eakin is a teacher who is determined to empower youth through education, travel and kindness.