in Choose Hope Today, Living Hope

This week marks one month since the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead and many more wounded physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. I’ll admit, the shooting had a strange effect on me initially. When I walked into the room to the television reporting on the tragedy, my immediate response was apathetic, like “oh, again?” Complete numbness to children and teachers terrorized and killed by a terribly disturbed schoolmate and parents in agony, all normally something I would weep over. This article from Psychology Today sheds light onto my shocking reaction.

Bothered by my lack of emotion toward this horror, I realized I had avoided the television and Internet all day. I tuned into some online news outlets to grasp a better sense of what had happened and I was intrigued to see a shift in messaging within the media. Amidst the details of the shooting, I was surprised to find news reports were focusing in on the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, with a slightly empathetic tone. This drew me in as it is apparent that this young man suffered from extraordinary trauma, and likely some form of personality disorder. I felt my heart shift a bit when I read that his father had died several years ago, and his mother—who by several accounts had tried to advocate for her son’s mental wellness–had died of the flu this past November and he had drifted around having been displaced from his home. The magnitude of this child’s trauma was unleashed onto his entire school community, and to a degree the entire nation, through access to weapons that he shouldn’t have had in the first place.

There are so many conversations to be had about the rising tide of gun violence in our country.  

But the one I’m hearing the least about is the epidemic of hopelessness we are facing in this country.  

There are a great many people in this country who are losing hope. They are disenfranchised, isolated, and marginalized. This is true for Nikolas Cruz and the pain, anger, and despair that he unleashed on his classmates and teachers on Valentine’s Day. This is true for the individuals barely surviving and dying in violent communities like the South Side of Chicago. This is true for the rising number of gun related deaths by suicide—of the 169,395 firearm deaths in the US from 2011 to 2015, 105,183 (or 62 percent) were suicides. This is true for the 115 Americans that die everyday from opioid overdoses, and the 92,000 children who were removed from their homes because at least one parent had a drug abuse issue. It’s also true for the thousands of other children who are living in homes filled with despair. My aunt, a Buncombe County elementary school teacher, says with each passing year she feels she’s less of an educator and more of a social worker. The complexities of these issues overwhelm me.

But here is a case for Hope:

Neuroscience is giving us the ability to have a greater understanding of brain development in children and young adults which can shape how we think about the needs of our future community leaders. We have incredible researchers and teachers like Brené Brown who can navigate a national discussion on emotional and mental wellness and chart a course for implementation on a state and local level. Instead of focusing on the outcomes of trauma like addiction, let’s treat the genesis of opioid addiction and treat the generational impact by bringing children into therapeutic counseling along with their parents.  

Let’s stop focusing on test scores in our schools and confusing parents and children with Common Core and invest in our schools as community centers for the individuals they serve. Look at the science on physical education, art, and music and give children outlets for their frustration. Let’s put Occupational Therapists in elementary schools to assist children with coping mechanisms for social interaction and management of their over stimulated nervous systems. Institute true therapeutic counseling services across all grade levels to identify and intervene with children like Nikolas Cruz, who otherwise end up further alienated from their peers and motivated to inflict injury on the magnitude of the pain they feel internally. The needs within schools today surpass academic success and intellectual well-being. They also demand a focus on emotional wellness and social integration. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a grant piloting a program in a school district in need that provides a meal for a student’s family in the evenings, and encourages parents to attend GED classes, parenting workshops, financial and nutritional counseling?

What if our schools became the gathering place for the community that we are rapidly losing in American society?

Let’s invest in therapeutic addiction and mental health treatment with Alternative Sentencing Programs. My tax dollars are far better invested in the rehabilitation of first time and misdemeanor offenders than in proliferating their disenfranchisement through lengthy prison sentences.

Is it so hard to frame a healthcare policy that promotes the health of our nation without burdening free enterprise? Wouldn’t a majority of healthy and functional citizens making a productive contribution to society improve economic development, allowing those individuals to contribute to the health of the economy?

One might argue this isn’t the job of government, that people should be accountable for themselves and their children, but friends, people are struggling.

We have lost our sense of community in many respects.

Many are unable to lift themselves out from the depth of despair, poverty, addiction, or trauma. Perhaps this is a moment in time in which the citizens of this country could look to our elected leadership to advocate for our best interest holistically instead of focusing on complexities of legislation and political rancor. To focus on what is in society’s best interest as a whole instead of what special interest dictates. We need our leadership to pilot us to a place of prosperity and set an example for what relational community should look like.

It’s my intention that Living Hope serves as a place of community for you to find encouragement and inspiration as you face adversity or uncertainty in your life. I am prayerful that this digital space will one day transform into a tangible place of gathering around the practice of Hope. For now, while we wait for our leadership to do their part, we can choose to pursue hope ourselves.

To believe that one day all of our exposure to living your best life, daring greatly, and carrying on warrior will bear fruit and we will resist the impulse to protect ourselves with apathy in the face of tragedy.  

You are loved!