Seven years ago, I applied for English positions at community colleges across the country. I had an interview at the El Centro campus in downtown Dallas with a chair who didn’t take the time to read my CV. Before the interview, she insinuated that I might not be prepared to work with homeless students. I actually had experience successfully working with homeless students. I’m glad I got a job down the road at TCC where I have continued to work with homeless students, returning military veterans, women fleeing violent marriages, and thousands of first generation college students, as well as plenty of traditional community college students returning to college or entering after high school to pick up credits before university. I care about every soul who enters my classroom, and I am grateful for my position. For these seven years at TCC, I haven’t thought much about El Centro College until the recent events.
On July, 7, 2016 a bomb carried in by a robot killed Micah Xavier Johnson in the El Centro Parking Complex in downtown Dallas just a few blocks from where Kennedy was shot. Micah Johnson is believed to have been the gunman who shot 12 police officers and killed 5. I am reminded that all the preparations we make don’t prepare us for unexpected moments of violence. I don’t know much about Johnson other than the tidbits flooding in—he was an army reservist and served in the Afgan war. I know that out of his own pain he chose to give pain to others in a shocking way. I hope we can all turn to this world and use our pain to help the world become a safer place. I believe a safer world can be created by forming strong, diverse communities of people who work to bring empathy and understanding to the many issues that need to be addressed such as current policies, laws, and systems. I am deeply saddened that these innocent victims died today, but I know that as they merge with a loving God that they hope a more peaceful world can be created from this moment in time.
College Campuses and Safety: Every day at my beautiful campus, I say a prayer for my students that violence never touches our beautiful space. Over the last few years, we have become more prepared with escape plans, special 911 numbers specific for our campus, and detailed directions. In every class, I consider how to keep my students safe if we had an incident on campus. I always make sure that I know who served in the military because civilian life can become a battle in an instant, and it is good to take guidance from someone with experience. Everyone, including me, prefers the idea of running from an active shooter, but sometimes an event occurs too close and fighting is the only option.
I’m a strong runner, but I’m not able to carry a disabled student to safety because of my back injury. I make sure I have a plan and alternate plans for all of us. Some days I consider the possibility of dying, and if I have to die at gunpoint I hope that my death might give a few precious seconds to students who might be able to run away and live. I’m not afraid to die myself, having had an NDE. I know that death itself is beautiful, but I also know that physical pain and trauma is horrifying and life changing. I wouldn’t want my students to associate trauma with college—a place that is usually transformative in kinder, mind-expanding ways. I also want Micah Johnson’s sister to know that I am a white woman who would give my life to protect hers or any of my students. I care deeply for their journeys, as if they were my adopted children, regardless of their age or race. Please know that I exist and want to help heal the problems in this world. Many more good people like me exist. We are the norm and not the exception.
Don’t get me wrong about being willing to die to protect my students. I am by no means suicidal, and because of my NDE I love life to a great extent. I can and often do experience deep, extended, blissful moments of daily life that remind me I am alive. Even a good cup of tea can do it for me some mornings. The reason I do not fear death is that I know that death is a transformation and not an ending. At the moment of my death, I will feel joy not fear. I will enter the light-filled, wondrous place beyond the veil with a great inward smile. I will be going home, again. If I’m lucky, my transition will be a lovely, meditative one. If I die suddenly, then I will pop out of this form instantly, look for the angels, and fly towards the light, merging with the consciousness of all. Dying taught me to live more fully and consciously, but it also taught me how to die extraordinarily well because I have no doubt that the soul goes on. I hope that my certainty gives others comfort who have lost loved ones.
Dallas Shooting: I realize that not everyone feels the way I feel about death, and I want to offer deep comfort to anyone who has lost a family member, friend, or acquaintance this year in America to violence of any kind. Although in theory I like Governor Abbot’s assertion that “Every life matters,” we might not be a country ravaged by violence had we realized the truth of that statement earlier in our history. Now, we must heal generations of damage and pain with forgiveness and loving solutions. Civil rights and women’s rights were intensely fought for (fairly recently) in this country and still are fought for to some degree. Across this nation, black men are dying at astounding rates, not as a reflection of alleged criminal behavior on the part of most who have been killed. Perhaps, policies and systems are what must be addressed first. The U.S., under current standards set by the Supreme Court, allow for deadly force in situations that would be deemed unnecessary and illegal under international law. The call for justice and accountability is important and necessary.
Because every life matters, let’s include everyone in our prayers, every life and recently lost life. May everyone effected by violence now work to make this world safer for everyone, more awakened, and more filled with love. For those grieving, it may take a while to get to this place. For all of us as observers, it certainly is not too soon. Love for every life on this planet will begin to fix the problem.
Unconditional Love: Unconditional love is what heals us all. Unconditional love is what I immediately felt on the other side of this life. Certainly, the life review showed me how I could have been more uplifting and connected to others in certain situations. I am certain that a life review for a murderer will not be enjoyable. This person will feel the pain of every person he harmed and the pain of everyone these people knew, and even my pain as I write about him and pray for everyone involved. He will also have to feel the disappointment of those seeking justice in the Black Lives Matter movement who fear his actions will create setbacks in the goal to change polices and laws which offer greater justice.
I wonder if Micah Xavier Johnson had been a student in my classroom if he might have viewed life and death differently after hearing my story about my near-death experience. I wonder if he had been in a classroom that was a supportive, diverse community of students if he might have had a different outlet for his anger through communication and activism. I’m not saying that I’m a miracle worker or education is the answer to all problems, but I am saying that understanding, empathy, and connection to others can sometimes prevent violence.
How do we react to the pain in our life? That is the deeper question? I challenge everyone to react with a desire to help others. I’ll end with a tweet from Elizabeth Warren, “Black Americans shouldn’t be killed in routine traffic stops, & police shouldn’t be killed while protecting & serving their communities.” She is succinctly correct. Now, what can we each do to create a better, safer world for all lives?