Saturday morning, January 25. I am working on my syllabi for the upcoming spring semester, feeling pretty good at what I have already accomplished. I pour another cup of coffee and begin to look ahead at what still has to be done.
Still so much to do, so much. So much.
At 11:32 a.m., I receive a tweet notification from the Baltimore Sun:
Immediately I forget about the work I need to do for the semester that begins next week and retweet the Sun’s breaking news. I begin scouring the various news sites for information. Twitter. Facebook. Websites.
Finally, news sources begin to broadcast the news that a shooting has occurred. There are mixed reports – all unconfirmed – that there are injuries. Fatalities.
The journalist in me awakens, and I get to work.
I do my best to inform so that others might be safe, broadcasting factual information that others need to make good decisions, to reach family members and friends. I use the power of social media to reach as many as I can, and I am grateful that this technology exists.
But still, underneath that steel, unemotional approach of a journalist, I can’t stop the thoughts creeping in that this is my school’s hometown. The kids I have taught for over a decade work at this mall; my current students and their families shop there frequently. This is their back yard, and tragedy has struck them on a personal level.
The teacher in me awakens, and I begin to worry.
A friend and former student who is an emergency responder texts me that he is en route to the mall, and I realize that my own current and former students could somehow be affected by this. What are they experiencing? Are they witnesses? Is it possible that they are affected in an even more tragic way?
My oldest daughter is their age.
The parent in me awakens, and I begin to panic.
The names of the two victims are released, and we realize that Tyler Johnson, 25, was a former student of ours. Our social media feeds blow up with RIPs and expressions of utter shock. I hear condolences from students I have taught, from friends I know, from acquaintances around the globe who have experienced similar tragedies.
The journalist, the teacher, the parent, the individual within me merges, and I am left to ponder the enormity of what has happened.
I imagine the same has occurred for countless others here in Maryland and across the country. An event like this forces us to remember similar tragedies in our lifetimes, some of them so personal that we are rocked by tremors of those memories.
I don’t need to list them. We do not need to be reminded again how senseless acts can devastate lives over and over again.
Instead, I consider where we are, and where we can possibly go – as individuals, as a community, and as a country.
In the coming days, we will hear national debates rise up about mental wellness and gun control. We will hear arguments to make our public spaces safer. We will hear and experience fears that copycat killers will rise up and seek some kind of sick glory, riding on the coat tails of this tragedy.
But right now, in these hours that follow, the only thing I want to hear is of people pulling together, of a community rising in faith in each other, of a state and a nation putting aside the debates and focusing their spirit and energy on comfort, healing, understanding.
We will all feel the pull to “be” the journalist, the teacher, the parent, the friend. In the end though, we are all just individuals trying to comprehend the senselessness of such moments.
This is what binds us. It’s our choice – right now – to choose to see beyond the debates of what should have been done and what we should do now.
So much to do, so much to do.
But not today.
What we need to do right now is choose to embrace the ones around us – not just in Ellicott City, Mt. Airy, and College Park. If we truly want to find a solution, to make a difference, it begins here.