I received my first death threat on Thursday. I say that like it's some sort of right of passage or a common occurrence, but it's not, and I hope it never is. A 14-year-old 7th grader said he was bringing a gun to school Friday just for me. I was so shocked that I blocked it out of my mind, went through my routine (which included kicking him out of my classroom) and tried to blow it off.
Blowing it off wasn't easy when his classroom teacher warned me of his fascination with guns. "He goes to shooting ranges," she said. "He knows more about guns than any student I've ever had. He explained how to shoot an automatic weapon." The scariest statement she made: "He has access. And he's very, very dangerous." The teachers encouraged me to call the police, to cover my bases, to make an official report. I knew the administration would prefer me to go through the traditional line of authority: office referral, follow-up with the principal, etc. But I just kept blowing it off, for the last 15 minutes of the day, as I drove home, as I ate dinner. It wasn't until I sat in opera pit orchestra rehearsal that it hit me. I could imagine him walking into school, following me home, and worst of all, I could imagine him with a gun. Then, I started to realize the seriousness of the situation, and I completely lost it.
The administration responded with a careless, "We'll probably suspend him if he's finished with state testing. If not, he needs to come in and finish it and then we'll suspend him." They did not call the parents, nor did they voluntarily follow-up with me. My co-teachers responded that I need to take my own action. I need to protect myself. State testing is more important to these administrators than the safety of their school. Because, of course, we can't leave any child behind.
The boy didn't come to school on Friday, which was an initial relief. Around noon, the para in his classroom gave me some less relieving news--the boy's mother had called...and she didn't know where he was. "Is he at school?" She asked. "Because I have no idea where he is." This is when I called the police.
I can't say reporting a 14-year-old for threatening me was my finest moment. It made me feel weak and it made me feel like I'd failed him somehow. I felt like I was overreacting and under reacting at the same time. I spoke to the para about my fear as she sat with a sixth grade teacher eating lunch. "I am too afraid," I told her. "We should never assume this much fear of our children." The art teacher supported my statement, "It is fear that protects us sometimes. It makes us lock our doors." Then, the sixth grade teacher said something that both amazed and angered me, "I don't know what you're talking about," she said. "But all I can say is 'Trust in God.'" The art teacher, a devout Christian, chuckled, "But God isn't going to lock your doors for you."
As I thought more about the sixth grade teacher's simple comment, I became more angry and confused. God ISN'T going to lock my doors...I need to feel like I have MORE control, not LESS control. Trust in God...how diminishing is that...tell that to the people at Virginia Tech or the soldiers and citizens in Iraq. Is she saying that if I trust in God I will be safe? Is she saying that if they would have trusted in God than they would have been safe? I dare to use a term spouted off at Oberlin so often that I became tired of it...but I just feel like "Trust in God" sounds so privileged.
I've never been one who is able to give it all up to God. I have trouble believing in God's will and God's plan. If I don't feel some control, some responsibility, then I end up feeling like God has failed me. So I take the failure aspect of things and lock my own doors. I trust the people and the resources God has given me. I try to trust God's creation.
The fact that I cannot stop thinking about the "Trust in God" statement makes me think that I'm missing something. I know that these words were supposed to help me, touch me in some way and last night, I started to figure out what I need them to signify. I need to trust that people are praying for me and for the boy. I need to trust that God created a child and that child is still somewhere inside this boy. I need to trust myself and my faith, and the things that bring me closer to God. The things that bring me closer to God are the things that make me feel safe. Things that I have lost site of because of work and stress and lack of time.
So last night I sat comfortably in opera rehearsal and enjoyed playing my violin. In church yesterday I lost myself in the service. I hugged my friends and thought about my college-friends. I pulled my crochet bag out of the closet and watched "Grey's Anatomy" while I started my first crochet project in 6 months. And when I was ready to sleep, I packed my crochet materials to bring them to school this morning. If I can't be safe at work, then I will bring some sort of safety with me. I have started trusting in the things that kept me going during some of my most difficult struggles. Though they are not God, they are God-related, and maybe that's what that teacher meant...or at least what I need her to mean.
But I still have to lock my doors and live in a little bit of fear. God will not do that for me, but I know that it is what God wants me to do. God wants us to do everything possible to save God's children. The boy and I both fit into that category.