“November Eyes on Main Street” photograph by Jacob Bond Hessler
It was the second morning after yet another school shooting. It’s also a year after a deranged white supremacist sympathizer won the Oval Office. It’s three months after I decided to leave the teaching profession. To say that my mind is spinning would be an understatement. Along with millions of others across our country and planet.
A friend, a father of a young teacher, wrote about hiring armed men to patrol our schools. Memes appear daily with phrases supporting the notion of arming teachers. This is how we, as a traumatized nation, is trying to make sense of the senseless.
Yesterday I went to breakfast with a friend and coworker. We go every Friday. It is something we look forward to. We discuss all the stuff we deal with all week long. Some of it school stuff, some of it family stuff, some of it political. But yesterday was different. Yesterday was two days after yet another day where children died because of our lax gun laws and the power we have turned over to the National Rifle Association. We cried a bit. We laughed a bit. And we listened to the waitress we’ve become friends with cry for us.
“Please, promise me you won’t be heroes,” she said. That plea resonated with me all day long. Two days later and I’m still hearing her, seeing her and her struggles, and imagining similar looks on the faces of parents across our country who’s children are in our schools either as students or as employees. She told us that her life growing up “wasn’t so good”. That “school was my safe place”. And “oh the poor children today who don’t have that safe place like I did”. I pictured the faces of children who are in my classroom and I know witness violence in their homes. I picture those of years past who have experienced the same thing and probably still do. I think about them as they would hug me and say they didn’t want a school vacation that was approaching and my feelings of absolute powerlessness. Sure we can call Human Services. I’ve done it many, many times. I almost always get the same response, “I’ll add this to our file.”
Schools need to be safe places, yet they are not. We worry about violence “out there” coming into our schools. But we also worry about violence that is already in our schools and loudly acted out by children so damaged that they can’t do anything but share their pain with our building and all who are in it.
Many in power are saying school shootings and the killing of children and their teachers is a mental health crisis not a gun crisis. Yet they are the same ones who vote for and enact the present situation in which mental health services for children are extremely difficult to get. There are not enough counselors or social workers in our schools. Not enough teachers or ed techs/para professionals. There is a gross lack of access to counseling for the vulnerable because Medicaid has been cut beyond recognition. These are the same folks who say it’s a mental health issue and not a gun issue. Their actions prove their deceit.
All weekend long I’ve been glued to the news, blogs, Facebook, reading as people try to come to terms with this, as I try to come to terms with this. Like many across the country, I’ve cried a lot this weekend. I keep telling my two grown children not to lose hope. I tell my classroom full of kids the same thing. Yet here I sit, trying desperately to hold onto it. I wonder, if my kids were young, would I send them back to school when our country, addicted to its guns and the power that comes with that, does nothing to make our schools and our children in them safe. I don’t know. Parents work. What options do they have? Give an extra hug and an extra “I love you” before heading out the door each morning? This is the Make America Great Again that we hear and see everywhere?
I have no answers. I’m deeply confused and conflicted. But this morning I read a poem by a man who resonates with me for many reasons. His poem appears in a book about boundaries, Boundaries. Boundaries are something many of us lack when dealing with others. I see it at my work all the time. Not just among children but among adults as well. It’s a tough thing to muster up the correct notion of boundaries. They are also something our government seems hell bent on putting around people to keep America white and privileged. I hope it’s ok with him that I post his beautiful poem here. It helped me today knowing that I am not alone, and I hope it maybe helps you a little bit too.
This poem, November Eyes on Main Street, was written as Richard Blanco, the author, drove down the streets of a favorite town of mine, Belfast, Maine, on the morning after the election of Trump:
November Eyes on Main Street
“I question everything, even
the sun today
as I drive east down Main
Street – radio off-
to Amy’s diner. She bob-
by-pins her hair, smiles
her usual good morning’ but
her eyes askew say
something like: You believe
this? as she wipes
the counter, tosses aside the
the election headlines as
bitter as my cofffee
that she pours without a
I look forward to tomorrow afternoon when a few fellow coworkers and I will spend time in his presence at a poetry workshop designed for teachers. I’m hoping he can help give me the hope I’m desperately trying to hold on to.