I did not know I was poor until I went to college.
Sitting around in my dorm talking to my new friends, sharing stories of our childhoods, it became clear that my financial situation growing up was far different from my new counterparts. Shopping at Salvation Army, eating fried bologna, or having reduced-cost lunch at school wasn’t the norm. But it was my norm. And until I saw differently, I didn’t know that my experience wasn’t everyone’s experience.
Later, after college, I worked for a residential facility for abused and neglected children. One of our clients had come from a horrendous home where she had been locked in a closet for hours while their parents went out clubbing. She told me that she felt profoundly guilty that she squinted when the police opened the door because her eyes had adjusted to the dark. And we all adjust to our dark.
Our reality becomes our normal.
Today we had a two-hour training on active shooting drills. The training started with astounding statistics about mass shootings right here in the United States. So far this year, as of this writing, there have been 140 incidents of gunfire in schools with 46 deaths. More than 320,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine. Students. Children. Our children are experiencing this, hearing about it, worrying about it on an everyday basis.
The presenter went through the horrors of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook. At one point, we were subjected to listening to an actual call of a teacher, at Columbine, calling from the library during the shooting. Shots firing in the background, screams, and panic in her voice as she tried to help her students hide from being killed — on a random Tuesday in April over 20 years ago. And it sounded as real as if it were happening today.
And as I was sitting there, I kept thinking — how is this normal? How is this just an accepted part of our life experience? I’m looking around at my colleagues — thinking, What the hell is going on here? How can we go from teaching subject-verb agreement this morning to learning how to fight back if there’s an active shooter in our building? How can we sit here and listen to a teacher making a 911 call from the library at Columbine High School in 1999 and then take our students to our school library tomorrow?
We get used to what we know. As a society, we have collectively agreed to act as though teaching children how to defend themselves from being shot after recess is normal.
At what point do we look around and say, NO! This is not the world we want to live in. This is not ok. When do we decide that American freedom is killing us? That your freedom to own a gun is not worth more than my child’s life? When are we going to challenge this normal? When are we going to turn on the light and stop adjusting to the darkness?
Tiffany Moyer-Washington lives in Hartford.