I will not die in this spot.
I’m sitting at my desk at a Southern California community college. It’s the best in the nation, at least from my biased perspective. But it could be any college. Or a church. Or a movie theater. Or a high school. Or an elementary school. Or a supermarket parking lot. It could be the university where I’m enrolled or a similar campus across the country.
This idiocy we’ve seen play out over and over again doesn’t discriminate by location.
That’s how I attempt to reassure my wife every time some anonymous person finds infamy while aiming at retribution for whatever grievance pushes them over the delusional edge. “I could still be working at a mall and the threat would be the worse.”
It never works.
But, I swear that this government-issued desk will not be the spot I take my final breath. At this very second, we are observing a moment of silence for the victims at Umpqua Community College; but, I won’t keep quiet. It’s my job — our jobs — to be vocal about this topic.
Here I sit — wondering how I’ll solve this problem. Certainly, that’s what I’m asked every time we hold an emergency drill, every time there’s an actual shooting elsewhere, every time that I send out a safety notification to our campus community. The students want to know. The faculty want to know. The media want to know.
None of us have the answers. If we did, the madness would end.
Too many ill-intentioned people have too-ready access to guns. But, those aren’t the only deadly weapons. Here in Orange County alone, we’ve experienced the murder of preschool children on a playground by a man who intentionally drove his car over them. We’ve seen a man slash his way through a grocery story with a samurai sword. A former colleague of mine bludgeoned his wife to death with a statue of a goddess. Guns are a tremendous part of the problem, though, and there are common-sense measures we can take to make things better in that regard. But no amount of regulation softens the fact that many among us really have no concern for our fellow inhabitants of this planet.
We don’t care for each other as individuals. We don’t know our neighbors. We’re detached from those who are both physically and emotionally close to us.
Changing that is a step each one of us could take at this very instant to make things better.
We spend our hours with heads drooped, staring at small glowing screens. They bring the world to our fingertips, yet add those same vast miles between us and those nearby.
It was just this type of device that delivered the news about Umpqua, while sitting in a room full of fellow communications professionals at conference in Las Vegas — all of us in higher education, some from neighboring towns of that tragedy. Later that day, at McCarran International Airport, I authored the draft of a statement about the Umpqua shooting on behalf of our president in response to a reporter asking us to comment on what we were doing to prevent such a scenario. Prevent it?!? Seriously? Nobody can prevent it, so how are we to be any different? Of course, that’s not what our media statement said.
Still, that sentiment hung heavily as I entered the airport’s gift shop a while later to find something to bring home to my sons. After selecting some playing cards and dice, I waited to pay. And waited. And waited while the lone employee of the store was engaged in conversation with the male half of a couple. When that never-ending transaction finally ended, I attempted to joke with the cashier so she knew I wasn’t overly frustrated with the delay. It took just a second longer to realize that she, however, was clearly shaken by the prior encounter.
With plenty of time before my flight and thinking about the need for people to connect, I tried to ease her jitters. I don’t remember most of what Maria told me, but she shared the impact that community college had on bringing her to Nevada. Her goal was to transfer to a local university to build a better life for herself. It was an opportunity available to her only through community college.
As I walked out of the store, I did so with a renewed sense of what we as educators and communications professionals do in our day to day. It is to open doors for people like Maria. As a result, I felt a deeper and renewed connection to the job that — in the most-ridiculous manner possible — puts me in harm’s way.
I’m sitting at my desk — the very spot where I refuse to die. A tear hangs in the corner of my right eye. I don’t cry. But gravity’s got a good grip on this one. I don’t want to cry and I’m tired of seeing that reaction — people crying — on the news. We need to try a different path.
So if I pass by and offer a smile, a hello, or a waive just know it’s because I refuse to die at this desk.