If nothing changes, nothing changes...


When I was seventeen, in 1999, I sat in a cap and gown in a semi-affluent town in NJ; nothing but the sky as my limit. Nothing but the breeze and applause at my back. High school had been a “tough" period for me. My dad’s addiction grew from bad to worse, I was teased for being heavy and for being a “nerd.”I worried about my family. I worried about what size clothes I wore, about what people were saying behind my back (we were in high school, none of us came out of it without doing something shady, even nerdy old me). I worried that my boyfriend was going to meet someone he liked more, I even worried that my grades were going to keep me out of college. Want to know what I didn’t worry about, way back in 1999? Going to school and getting shot. It all began about six weeks before I graduated; with that awful scene at Columbine. Back then, it was a “one off.” Some random hate-filled kids did a senseless thing; it wouldn’t possibly happen again (or dozens of times, across nineteen years). Despite that one act, we thought it was the exception, not the rule. Nothing changed. And want to know what? Because nothing changed, nothing changed

If you’d told me then, that years later, when my daughter was in preschool, that I’d have to hear about twenty-six children, barely two years older than her, being shot to death in their kindergarten classroom, or seventeen kids being mowed down by a mentally ill classmate after that, I wouldn’t have believed it. I wouldn’t have believed that mentally ill people could keep getting assault rifles over and over, and over again. They’ve gotten them, and killed people watching movies in a theatre. People shopping at the mall. People watching a concert. 

My dear, smart, intelligent, amazing friends, can we please take a second and really think about some of the things that are coming out of our mouths, or falling off of our fingertips? Our kids’ lives depend on it; literally. OUR lives depend on it. The lives of our friends, our parents, our neighbors, they all depend on it. 

There is so much going on in this world right now, that it’s tough for me, as an adult to make a lick of sense of any of it. Drugs, women’s rights, civil rights, who can carry a gun, and what kind of gun? 1% of the country holding 99% of the money, while the majority of the country are treading water just to get through each pay period. It’s a wicked world out there, and most of the people reading my blog, like me, are trying to raise good, productive members of society. And somehow, we’re failing, because we can’t find answers. REAL answers. Its bad enough I can’t give my kids an answer as to why their Dad of all the daddies had to die. I have to assuage the very REAL fear they feel that they will grow brain tumors and die young. This is just my every day life. Now I have to answer questions about lock down drills, assault rifles and what they should do if a violent act goes down at school. AT SCHOOL. I have to be vigilant when I take them anywhere with a crowd, whether the local fair, or to NYC to see a show. 

How do we expect children, just discovering thoughts and opinions of their own, so unaware of the real danger out there, to understand why anyone would come into their school (or to a show venue or town carnival) and want to end their lives???? I DON’T GET IT! Yet we expect them to go into school, every single day. We expect them to go perform, to learn, to yield results from their educations; while simultaneously watching their backs to make sure no one is shooting at them. AND we expect teachers, already underpaid, to lay their lives on the line and learn how to make sure as few children are shot as possible. Some even suggest we arm them. My kids’ teachers just had to ask us all for PENCILS because they ran out, but sure, let’s find money to train them to shoot guns, to keep guns in the classroom (which is so brilliant, I CANNOT even - cough:sarcasm:cough), and lets PRETEND that if a student comes in with an ASSAULT RIFLE, that said teacher will have TIME to find the key, unlock the gun cabinet, load it, and shoot the shooter before anyone (let alone the whole class) is dead. Sure. Sure. 

People say: don’t walk out, walk up! Go befriend all the friendless misfits sitting alone! Don’t make fun of people! Don’t bully! 

Parents: I get this. We all want our kids to be kind. We all should abso-fucking-lutely be emulating kindness for our kids, and teaching them that material things don’t matter—what a kid is wearing doesn’t matter, what a kids’ parent does for a living or how they earn doesn’t matter, all kids deserve kindness, whether they went to Disney World or down the street for Easter break. This isn’t something that we should have to be touting as some new concept—kindness should always be a thing. 

If you’re sensing a “but” here, there is…

BUT: Kindness to their peers is not “the” answer to this problem. The onus to “not getting shot at school” is not on our children. Nor is it the answer to a peer’s mental illness. My daughter is one of the kindest humans I’ve ever met. She’s won awards for her kindness. She is one of the most caring, thoughtful little people I’ve ever known in my life, and she’s only eight. Do you think that will save her from getting shot if a mentally ill 11 year old gets a hold of their parents’ assault rifle, and opens fire in her cafeteria? Do you think that kid will ask the “nice kids” to stand to one side of the room so they don’t get shot? It incenses me that this is the corner we’ve turned to as an answer. Kindness is a character trait we teach our children because we want them to be good people, not as an answer to “not getting shot.” This is not their fault. They didn’t cause this. Their kindness won’t cure it. That child in Parkland that just killed SEVENTEEN PEOPLE would not have decided not to shoot up the school because someone sat with him at lunch. He was SICK. He needed GUIDANCE, He needed HELP. He needed serious, serious INPATIENT THERAPY. None of this would have been provided by the kindest child in that school. 

BUT: Kindness is not a “do as I say, not as I do,” concept. Kids CANNOT self teach themselves kindness. It starts with you. Every time I have begun to mention this as a response on social media, people seem to automatically get defensive. As if somehow, I’ve offended their sensibilities; perhaps they feel I am insinuating that they aren’t kind people. Friends, I am well aware that most of you really are kind. The kindness shown to my children and I when my husband was sick (and after he passed) is just about the only thing that kept me having any faith in life, in humanity. There are many, many, many good people out there, who do wonderful things. But it’s not just donating money or doing walks that demonstrate kindness. It’s how we speak to one another. Its the attention we pay one another. It’s demonstrating care for others, whether they have a cold or cancer, when they lost a bet in AC or their life savings because of the recession. It’s a way of being, not just charitable acts (which are AWESOME, I need to reiterate, I’m just saying that is ONE ACT of kindness versus being kind). We are all guilty of checking out sometimes, of being self absorbed, tired, overwhelmed, and not remembering to pay attention to how we say things and how we conduct ourselves in front of our kids. I am guilty, too. 

BUT: By telling our kids that they should walk “up” instead of “out”—we are telling them their voices don’t count. Don’t you see, that is why they are walking out??? They don’t get a vote, they don’t get a say in who makes the rules that effect them. They don’t get to decide if, when, or how they are protected. THIS IS THEIR SAY. They are telling us, all of us, that they are tired of going to school, and being scared they won’t make it home. They are telling us they’ve had enough of adults giving thoughts and prayers and squabbling on Facebook while they have lock down drills and are taught what to do if one of their classmates turns a gun on them. They want action. They want the adults in their lives—their parents, their educators, and the people who are paid handsomely to make the laws to protect them, to ACTUALLY protect them. And I don’t blame them. 

I’m not attacking this concept, friends, I promise. I’m not saying kindness “doesn’t matter.” I’m not saying that bullying is okay, that saying nice things versus mean things doesn’t make a difference in the world. Of course it does. I’m saying this notion that somehow kindness is a placeholder for action is just as bad as giving thoughts and prayers. The conversations need to happen. Real, awkward, uncomfortable conversations. There is not just ONE answer to this problem. I’m not the person who is going to solve the puzzle on my own. But I am, despite my nature to not rock the boat, joining in it, because I don’t think any of us can afford to not participate anymore. 

WE, the ADULTS—the mama bears, the daddies, the grandparents, the foster parents, aunts, uncles, guardians, and the teachers and the legislators, we need to come together and figure this shit out, and we need to do it, fast. It’s not just kindness. Its not JUST gun control, it’s not JUST faulty parenting, and it’s not JUST mental health. It’s also not JUST a school issue. We need a societal fucking overhaul. Or our families might be next. And I don’t know about you, but I cannot, cannot, cannot bare to lose one more fucking person I love senselessly. 

So while this post might have me losing friends, losing favor with people, I couldn’t stay quiet anymore. None of us have the luxury any longer of assuming these incidents are isolated. That they are the exception. They aren’t. I hope, at the very least, if it gets one good conversation going, maybe it can spiral into some change. Lord knows, something has to. 

Megan Courtney