The Importance of Connection

My current students leading a high school tour for my students from my former middle school community

This morning I woke up and did what I normally do.  I unlocked my phone and checked my Facebook (yes, I know this is not the best morning routine, but it is my morning routine).  I was still thinking about many historic firsts from the mid-term elections and wondering about close races across the country, and I wanted updates before a busy morning of getting my family ready for school then getting out for a run and getting to campus.

What I saw immediately was news of another mass shooting, in a community only about 20 minutes from where I grew up, in a popular country bar on a college night.  I saw that 12 people lost their lives including a 29-year veteran sheriff who had been a first responder.  I wondered if friends had been there or had friends there.  I thought deeply about how, what and when to speak.  So much flooded through my mind as I scanned my feed and saw story after story, post after post, about the incident — from scared parents and community members; to those who have been tirelessly advocating for gun control; to thoughts and prayers.  In that moment, I didn’t have anything really to say that I haven’t said countless times before–except that I’m so sorry you’re all suffering, because even though I’ve said that a million times, you have to know that if you’re suffering, I am just so sorry about it all, and I love you.

But, I just couldn’t post it because I just felt so heavy in my heart. The heaviness of recognition, of the again after never again.

I ran 3 miles, then jumped in the car to get to school. My current credential students were set to lead a tour for students from the high school that my former middle school feeds in to.  We waited and the bus arrived, and the second person to come off of the bus was….Yaya:

Yaya and me

So, let me tell you about Yaya.  Yaya is one of my favorite people on the planet and has been since she was a spunky 7th grader, unafraid to speak her mind, brilliant and thoughtful beyond her years, FUNNY, and always up on media gossip.  I love this woman.  Over the years, we’ve kept in touch sporadically through occasional visits and social media, but we didn’t know that we would see each other this morning. She was an adult chaperone, a digital storyteller and mentor to these high school students.

And seeing her literally made my day, week, month, year.

We were able to catch up like old friends, in her words, “like I graduated from Chavez yesterday.” We talked about family, career, life — all the important things. I’m hoping she’ll come down to CSULB and earn her single subject credential, and she’s definitely going to let me know the next time she’s back in town.

Yaya reminded me about what I really have to say, in general about our society, and specifically about the prevalence of mass shootings.  It reminded me about the importance, the absolutely critical importance, of connection.

So, gun control is a part of the issue, and you may agree or disagree with me, but that’s my stance on that.  AND, it’s also not what I feel like is the only central feature of mass shootings. I’m going to go out on a limb (because it’s my blog, and I can do that here) and say that, dehumanization of others is what is at the core of not only mass shootings, but much of the physical and psychological violence that plagues our society today.  We don’t connect with one another and in that environment of missed connection and disconnection, we allow ourselves to justify dehumanizing and hurting one another.  If I disagree with you, but I respect you, we disagree, and we work through things as best we can or we end our relationship and go our separate ways. If I disagree with you but one of us fundamentally dismisses the other’s humanity, this is the core of violence.  It is violent that we dismiss someone else’s humanity because we disagree with them.

But, that violence isn’t equal. More than the violence of dismissal, in and of itself, if you are the dismisser or the dismissed and you want power in a situation (don’t most of us when we feel disempowered?), and you buy into the norms of toxic masculinity that are perpetuated around us, and you have access to guns and you feel like you have more rights than others, what is stopping you from going out in a blaze of glory? NOTHING. Nothing is stopping you.

Unless a sense of inherent connection to others, to a higher power, to humanity stops you.

I’m grateful to Yaya for reminding me that even in the darkest moments, my conviction that faith in humanity must be sustained, that connections are more powerful than all that we are up against, and that the only way we’re going to make it is together.

Connections matter. Please keep connecting, in joy and in tragedy.  You are not alone.