Update 1/19/19: My memoir, Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformation, can be pre-ordered now. It is a #1 new release in several categories. I would love it if you helped me make near-death experiences more mainstream.
The love in my heart and soul is a billion times stronger than a gun strapped to my hip. Love is what has transformed my life and other’s lives. Love is the only thing that matters—the only thing that lasts, transcends, and lives on in the realms beyond this one. Love is all that we take with us.
Teaching is the way that I have been guided to give love and to serve this world, and my hope has always been to create a brighter world through education. I love my community college students even before I meet them. I love them so that their journeys will open to wider paths and their options for success will be more plentiful. I love them so that their fears will subside, and they can learn with greater understanding.
Teaching in junior high, high school, and at the college level has been a holy profession for me. While doing my training to teach in the public school, I remember viewing a video about a teacher who was informed that her students were gifted. In turn, she treated these students as if they were gifted, and they excelled because of her expectations. I imagined that if I walked into each classroom with unconditional appreciation for students and belief in their abilities, no matter what they had suffered or no matter what delinquent behaviors they exhibited, then miracles would occur.
Although the threat of an active shooter is a topic of concern at all schools, I chose to focus on ways to pinpoint, defuse, and bring healing to volatile situations before they spiraled out of control. I started teaching in public schools after the Columbine High School tragedy and quickly realized that many teachers have been on alert to catch possible threats before they materialize and that seems like the best defense.
At the community college level, campus police are proactive and frequently walk the halls; there is a general feeling of safety at my campus. My students are often adults with full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities. Other students have recently graduated from high school, but even these students often work and have quite a few responsibilities. Certainly, I’ve encountered a few students in need of disciplinary interventions, but I never thought that concealed weapons would make us all safer.
Campus carry is the strangest change I’ve witnessed in education. Texas legislation has thrown the possibility of guns into the middle of my love fest, and now I don’t know whether the most loving thing I can do is to be a loving person carrying a concealed weapon or to be a loving person without one.
I’m at ease and skilled with guns, and I’ve taken several self-defense classes and weapon training classes over the years. I’m a victim of rape, theft, harassment, and stalking. Owning guns was never problematic for me, but bringing guns to school seems odd. To my friends in Europe, the policy seems insane.
Whatever I decide to do because of this change, I know that I will be incorporating more meditation and mindfulness exercises into my English classes. I will be praying for the safety of our students and that everyone makes wise, safe choices. My primary message to students is that education can be a path to a better life, to healing, and to greater opportunities. I don’t ever want fear to be stronger than hope.
On a basic level, it makes sense that more guns will cause more violent crime, but I do understand why people think guns might make them safer. Certainly, from a victim’s point of view I wonder how certain situations might have turned out differently if I had a gun and the other person didn’t. But, I also know that the type of men who stalk, harass, and rape women might also use weapons to try to assert power over others.
Will Sam Colt be the great equalizer of the sexes? I’m not sure. Will more women, especially young women who are extremely vulnerable to these situations, learn how to use and carry guns? I certainly hope that more women do take self-defense classes in this current environment.
Having guns on a college campus doesn’t fit with my ideas about talking openly about intense topics. The University of Houston has suggested that professors avoid sensitive topics and that prospect saddens me. If having guns on campus does not create an environment which encourages students to think critically and deeply about their world, then guns should not be allowed on campus.
In college, I loved hearing diverse opinions and solid, academic research, and I would hate to think of professors feeling intimidated enough to make a blander, watered down curriculum in response to the policy. I hope that we can have more discussions about power, privilege, and why gun violence can not be our new normal.
One professor I know tells students on the first day of class, “Please don’t shoot me. Come talk to me and let me get the help for you that you need.” The students think that their professor is joking, but this statement is not a joke. Other professors I know who are nearing retirement are now considering changing paper topics to more fun, upbeat assignments that will encourage group work and laughter, not debate.
This summer in Raleigh, North Carolina, I got the chance to talk with the artist David Hess who built 100 mock assault rifles with household items like vacuum cleaner parts. The mood at his show is considerably different than the mood at an actual gun show. Lots of people of all ages smiled and picked up his fake guns for pictures. Many people pointed them at one another and laughed. Hess hopes to facilitate more discussions about fear and control, and he rejects polarized conversations about guns. However, he does want to make a difference in the tragedy of so much gun violence in the U.S.
Because of my near-death experience, I have a strong belief that my very life was saved so that I might reach as many students as possible. Right now, I am struggling to determine what the most light-filled, uplifting response is to campus carry.
I went into teaching in order to create greater peace, prosperity, and harmony in the world. I never pictured myself doing this with a gun strapped to my thigh or my hip, but I am a survivor, and I will do what I believe is the best, wisest choice for myself and for my students.
I am trying to adapt to a reality which is not acceptable. I don’t like this change, but Texas is the place where I have a coveted, full-time position. I have no choice but to bring as much lightness, peace, wisdom, and levity as possible to this new landscape.
But, really, if we are going to bring guns and knives to school like this is the Wild West, can we at least ride horses to class, have community gardens, talk around campfires by the river, look at the stars, and put away the cell phones?