Doing nothing is not an option

The year after graduating from college, I completed a year of service through Volunteers for Educational and Social Services, or VESS, an organization of the Catholic Conference of Texas. VESS, founded in 1972, has placed young adults in economically underfunded parishes, schools, and social service agencies across Texas, though most volunteers are non-Texans. In fact, in my cohort of volunteers, I was the only Texan. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding and declining volunteer registrations, the Educational and Social Services Volunteers ceased operations in 2001.

I lived in the community with four other women who were also recent college graduates and we worked at a small Catholic elementary school in a small town in Texas that none of us had heard of before. Needless to say, we learned a lot while serving at Sacred Heart Catholic School that year. Only one person in my community had studied education in college. The rest of us were distraught – good hearted, but distraught.

We learned from each other the importance of laughter, shared tears and mutual support through difficulties. We learned from the faculty community who embraced us and showed us compassion, a listening ear, and advice on how to be in the classroom. We learned from the students, from whom we received many hugs, saw flashes of understanding light up and we listened. It was a year that changed my life. It’s a place I could never forget and will always hold a place in my heart.

Unfortunately, after last month, no one will ever forget the city. Before last month, when I thought of Uvalde, I remembered the smiles of our students. Dance parties in our community house on cleaning days. The kindness of families who have given so much with so little. The quinceañera celebrations that lasted into the night. Now those memories are mingled with deep sadness and an undercurrent of rage as I consider how this small town has been changed forever.

I believe that this tragedy, along with the horrors of other recent mass shootings, has changed us all, whether we recognize it or not. I was in San Antonio a few weeks ago and chatted after mass with a young woman who will be starting her first year of teaching in August. She shared with me her main concern as she prepares for this new chapter. His main concern is that his class is not well designed to protect children from an active shooter. This is his main concern. No lesson plans or curricula. Not classroom management or discipline. But keeping his students safe from active shooter.

I’ve noticed that for the past few years when I’m out in public, I look around and I’m hyper-aware. Either I’m looking for a place to go or I’m trying to come up with an action/escape plan in case there’s a shootout. I do it in churches, at school, in crowded streets, restaurants, almost everywhere. I wouldn’t say I live in fear or dwell on safety plans. But I also try not to be naive about the possibilities.

And I wonder – what can we do with our collective trauma?

I don’t have many answers. But I know it. Doing nothing is not an option. We have to do something. Because it is by doing something that allows us to embody hope. If we give up and say we can’t do anything, we end up feeling defeated. And this feeling can lead to despair. And despair does not lead to change. It’s a self-perpetuating feedback loop of dead ends.

At times like this, I remember our foundress, Blessed Mother Adèle de Batz de Trenquelléon, who wrote: “Let us therefore courageously set to work, not allowing ourselves to be frightened by the magnitude of the task. just think about what we’re doing right now, doing it well. …” Courage! We need courage.

As we continue to deal with the traumatic events happening around us, let us never forget the victims. May their lives inspire us with the courage to act. We must.

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