Watching for the shadow: school drill feels eerily real

Two weeks ago I spent my seventh-period Biology class huddled under a counter in the back of a dark, locked room.

Sixth period had just ended; classrooms were emptying, and students streamed into the hallways. I was headed upstairs to my locker when the intercom crackled to life. The dean of students’ voice echoed through the school, announcing that we were entering a lockdown, hurrying us into the nearest classrooms. I ducked into Biology, the last to arrive.

In the Bio room there is a long counter stretching the length of the wall to the right of the door as you enter, under which all 16 students crouched. My teacher locked the door and flicked off the lights; we sat in the dark, waiting.

Now, this may not have technically been my first lockdown drill—Country Day undoubtedly had a few over the years—but these left no impression. At worst, they were minor inconveniences; at best, they were a welcome break from class. Regardless, they were soon forgotten.

This is no longer the case, however. A drill has never carried such weight as that Thursday lockdown. It seemed to last forever.

The only window in the biology classroom is a small one in the door. During the drill, the hall light streamed across the room, a glowing box on the far wall.

I doubt I’m the only one who watched that light, thinking of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., wondering how it would feel to see a shadow step into the box.

The tragedy at Sandy Hook has reverberated across the country; its senseless destruction was so completely incompatible with societal ideas of morality and humanity that it has shaken many, myself included.

I cannot imagine what the families of the Newtown victims must be going through.

As poet Richard Blanco said at Obama’s inauguration, it is “the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain / the empty desks of 20 children marked absent today, and forever.”

They say there’s a silver lining here, that this is the tipping point, the final straw, that the nation will demand change and Congress will deliver.

But it’s never that simple.

Texas might be in the Bible Belt, but, to a girl from Sacramento, it can feel like the Gun Belt.

Not everyone is a gun owner, hunter or firearm proponent, but there is a certain cultural perspective, a mentality born of the state’s ranching past and pride in constitutional rights, that embraces gun ownership.

Here in The Woodlands this part of Texan culture wasn’t immediately obvious, but I’ve become more aware of it gradually; from Facebook profile pictures at the shooting range to the casual comparisons of gun models, guns are simply more a part of normal life.

This attitude is not unique to Texas or to red states. According to Time magazine, there are an estimated 310 million firearms in the U.S. alone. That’s almost one gun per citizen.

This makes it unlikely in my mind that any drastic changes will be made regarding gun control, but we can keep it in our consciousness.

Perhaps, out of this tragedy, will come, at the very least, a greater vigilance, a greater awareness. I can only hope that exercises like crouching in the dark in a Bio lab will keep us talking and encourage us to find a compromise that balances individual freedoms with personal safety.

We can only keep searching for that middle ground. As Blanco said in his closing lines: “hope—a new constellation / waiting for us to map it, / waiting for us to name it—together.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email