After Newtown

By Glenda | December 17, 2012

The shortest verse in the Christian Bible is “Jesus wept.” He wept when his friend died, just as all of us, even our president, in the past few days have wept for the loss of life in Newtown, Connecticut.

After Jesus wept, though, the Bible tells us, he acted to change the circumstances concerning his friend’s death. We do not need to go deeply into that story, of course, for it is our own story that consumes us now, and our own need for action.

“What,” we cry out, “what is to be done?”

At the memorial service for those who died in the Newtown , Connecticut elementary school shooting we were called upon by the ministers of various religions to continue in the future to practice the compassion we feel right now. I hope that we are able to do that, of course, and I also hope that we translate that compassion into passion for change, for action.

My own hopes for change have to do with the roots of the problem in our society. Those roots are many and entangled. I know we cannot address all of them, certainly not immediately. But one strand, one cause of our on-going, recurring grief I would like to see us change.

I think today not only of the educators in that school, but also of the first responders, the crisis counselors, the mental health professionals that are so necessary in time of peril.

It occurs to me that we did not have a national memorial service for either the disturbed young man turned murderer nor for his mother, dead at his hand. And they both, I dare to say, are dead at the hands of a culture that does not place mental health on a par with other vital issues. Our cultures fails to give sufficient aid and assistance to the mental illness of the thousands like this young man who may suffer in obscurity until their condition festers to a point that they bring harm to themselves or others. We do not give sufficient concern and resources to the parents and teachers and care-givers of such disturbed youth.

We do not yet know if this young man who brought assault rifles and guns to kill six and seven year old children ever had professional psychological services. What we do know is that day after day all across this country for years now, mental health professionals’ resources have been whittled away. On any given day, the mental health practitioners whose services might change a disturbed young man from becoming a mass murderer face the bizarre fact that someone in an insurance office states away with spread sheet in hand, studying the “bottom line” for the insurance company, determines the amount and level of care the disturbed young man can receive—“No, not the amount of time you say he will need to be helped, but only this amount of time that we will pay for.”

But later, when the mass murderer strikes, we wring our hands and say, “How could this happen? Why did this happen?”

Well, we know how this can happen, why it happens, and one of the reasons is that we place our priorities, as a society, in the wrong places. It’s as simple as that. As one minister said, “No child is born a murderer.”

In our society’s times of peril, whether it be Hurricane Sandy or a mass shooting in an elementary school, it is a special group of people who become essential to us, people whom we then label, rightly, as heroes. But too soon we turn back to our lives, ignoring the fact that those heroes continue to be under assault every day, if not always by bullets or storm, instead by reductions and restrictions on the means with which they can accomplish the tasks we need them to do.

Teachers stood in the way of danger last week and lost their lives to save children. They stand in the front of the their classrooms every school day of the year, bravely attempting to do the job that is perhaps most important in our culture—shaping the lives of those who are our future.

And yet they are paid so minimally for what they do, and their salaries are going down, not up, as state and federal budgets are cut due to the mismanagement, not of educators, but of corporations and governments high and low. And not only that, but our educators’ self esteem and sense of high purpose is assaulted daily in the media whose pundits say repeatedly that our schools have failed, that the educational system is broken, etc. , without looking deeply into the culture’s reasons, our own reasons, why they might fail.

But on a day like last Friday, when every teacher, principal, and school counselor in Newtown, Connecticut did, at peril of their lives, what they do every other day—love, protect, console, and instruct their charges—we actually notice and praise them. We rush in to give them whatever they need in that moment of tragedy, but then we neglect to continue that priority in the following days and months and years, until another school shooting occurs.

If we hope not to see another Newtown or Aurora or any other such event, let us raise up our first responders, educators, counselors, and all the rest, not only with words of praise but with a whole new cultural mindset that puts these folks at the top of the list of priorities instead of near the bottom.

No matter what our budget has to be on a federal or state level, it is no longer acceptable for these professions to be cut and cut, even as they continue to sacrifice for us, not only in tragic circumstances, but daily, as they work long hours for less pay with less resources and less social status than they deserve.

I say, now, let us change. Our president said that we must, that we can. Let our compassion become action on behalf of children by uplifting the teachers, first responders, mental health professionals, seeing to it that they get every resource, support, and gratitude we can give them on an ongoing daily basis. Let us become their advocates and protect them as they protected those innocent children.

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