Wednesday morning, I woke to the following message: In collaboration with other Denver-metro districts, all Jeffco Public Schools will be closed today due to ongoing safety concerns.
In short, an 18-year-old woman reportedly obsessed with the Columbine shooting (the 20th anniversary of which is on Saturday) made threats to some local schools, causing a lockdown of a handful of schools on Tuesday, and complete closure of 7 large districts affecting 600,000+ students on Wednesday.
After the message sunk in, I looked outside and gazed upon a beautiful spring day. Birds called in the trees and the sun was rising behind one of the mesa top mountains that frame my town. I thought about my girls who were still blissfully sleeping. This would be much harder to explain than a snow day.
I remember exactly where I was when the news of the Columbine shooting took hold of the country. It was shocking then...the first massive school shooting. Little did we know what would follow, that similar stories would become mere blips on our radar...that due to desensitization and/or the need for self-preservation we would be unable to give each tragic event the emotional energy it deserved.
What do you do when the weight of the world feels too heavy? When the helplessness overcomes you? When your lack of control over outside circumstances tightens like a vice around your chest?
For me, Wednesday required constant practice at being aware of what I do have control over. And despite the hard conversations and troubled state of the world, I wanted to make the surprise day off the memory that stuck with my girls. I couldn't control the outcome of the manhunt, but I could control the outcome of my family's day.
It didn't take long for me to decide to stay off social media and the news. The anger and fear, while wholly justified, was already leading to emotionally-charged posts and disagreements about everything from how much to tell the kids to whether the school closures were warranted to how gun laws needed to change. This is not a parenting blog although I was acutely aware of how many decisions I was making about what kind of parent I wanted to be. Likewise, this is not a political post because I am a life coach and this has surpassed any political disagreement. We cannot persuade our way out of this situation. We need a complete and cultural paradigm shift, beyond party lines, beyond us vs them. But Wednesday, with the fear and uncertainty surrounding the situation, I couldn't even think about that. The weight of the world had settled firmly on my shoulders.
As I explained to my children the reason they were not going to school, the weight piled on a bit more. As I considered a threat that would cause the closure of 7 large districts, I felt the weight bear down. When they found the suspect dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound, I did not feel relief or consolation, just another layer of heavy sadness and confusion.
My husband was not working on Wednesday, and we had planned to attack some long-awaited house projects. I also had a long to-do list for Golden Life Coaching, but with the kids home and the weight of the world settling in, I knew we couldn't just move forward as planned. Projects could wait. Making this day a happy memory could not.
We loaded up the dogs and headed to one of our favorite hikes. As I watched my family hiking on the trail ahead of me, I started to breath a little easier. As I watched my in-laws' old dog (who we were doggie sitting) totter up the trail looking 5 years younger, I couldn't help but smile. As we gained elevation, I felt the weight that had settled so stubbornly begin to dissipate. I took comfort in my daughters' laughter as they told make-believe stories as we hiked. We passed a high-centered Jeep left by an overzealous tourist who ignored "no motor vehicle" signs and consequently got stuck. I laughed at the silliness of that minor problem and imagined him walking down the trail, cursing his own lack of judgment. The day which started out full of uncertainty and fear suddenly felt carefree and fun. I knew my kids felt safe. As we rose in altitude, the weight of the world, both literally and figuratively gave way to love and lightness.
The fear and sadness that came with the threatening situation and its outcome are far from gone. I think about the school board's decision and the law enforcement's work and I am grateful, but I am also anxious. The power of one person to affect so many is terrifying. And unfortunately, I know this is not the last of these types of incidents. The threat of school shootings is but one of many anxiety-producers we face. But Wednesday was a good reminder for me. It was tempting to go down the rabbit hole of watching the news and hanging on the controversies over which I have little to no control. I am proud that I was able to turn my attention to what I could truly influence. That day with my family reaffirmed what is important, and having time to focus on creating moments of love and joy and safety also gave me time to process so that I can also work on influencing the bigger picture.
When I was a kid, my mother used to quote the serenity prayer regularly and I thought about it several times on Wednesday. I'd like to end with it here: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.