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The Day My Friend Was Stabbed At School

Have you ever been locked in a classroom while an ambulance carried away a classmate after an incident of school violence? I have. It wasn’t a mass shooting. It was a stabbing in the mid-nineties in Mississippi.

As I write this our nation is stunned after seventeen children died in a mass shooting in a high school in Florida yesterday. I’ll post this, maybe, in a few weeks. Every time I hear about a shooting I’m reminded of my own brush with school violence. I’m waiting to post this because I don’t want to minimize the pain of the Florida community by saying I understand. I do not understand. My experience with school violence happened more than twenty years ago and no one died. It’s not the same.

As a teenager I did not know all the details, and still don’t know all the details, of what happened that day. What I was told was that one boy, who was a friend of mine, bumped into a another boy and knocked the books out of his hands. The first boy apologized. The second boy accepted the apology. It was an accident.

The story continues that some of the second boys’ friends would not let it go and threatened to “jump” the first boy and his friends the next day at school. The assistant principal called both boys into his office and they worked it out. (Side note: the principal was at a conference about school violence at the time.)

The next day the rumors continued. On a normal day my group of friends stood in one place during break to chat, flirt and eat our snacks. Our guy friends would not let us stand with them that day. As we walked into the school at the end of break a flood of boys were on top of one another.

Teachers yelled for everyone to get inside, go to their classrooms and lock the doors. As people settled into their seats we learned our friend had been stabbed, the ambulance was on its way.

Fear gave way to tears.

What I did not say earlier is the main factor in these boys’ confrontation was race. As my friends and I sat locked in a classroom a classmate who is of a different race than me brought a roll of toilet paper to where my friends and I sat. She bridged a divide with a simple act of caring.

Ask someone else their view on what happened and they will tell you a different story. I will not say their story is wrong, but only this is my view, my perception, of what happened. We were told later it was a gang issue not a racial issue. I don’t know for a fact that is true. I don’t know who really does know the truth about that day. I do know we were all wrong not just in regards to that situation but in regards to the way we acted that allowed that situation to even become what it was.

But when we know better, we do better.

What happened that day on our high school campus had nothing to do with mental illness or even bullying. Fights happened then to show power and control. Maybe that’s what characterized it as gang violence. Today it’s still about power and control, but it appears to be the sidelined kid who feels left out and alone.

What’s happened since the last shooting is about power and control as well. Students who have had control ripped from their lives are looking for some way to take it back. And wouldn’t we all? When someone we love is needlessly harmed or murdered, don’t we seek a way to fix it, to make our world right again?

I wish my experience offered me some insight into how fix this broken world, but it doesn’t take my experience to know how to fix this world. It’s not really about gun control or arming teachers. Neither of those solutions will fix this. It’s like telling someone with lung cancer to stop smoking or take some cough medicine. We’re putting a bandage on the symptoms not actually dealing with the problem.

The problem is with our hearts. Not just the heart of the kid who goes into a classroom with a gun. Not just the heart of the kids who witness this kind of incredible tragedy. Our hearts sitting in our living rooms arguing about how to fix this thing are part of the problem. We can’t show our kids how to care for and love people who disagree with them.

Listen to me clearly. I am not saying we should give up our beliefs and agree with people we believe are wrong. I’m saying we need to carry them a roll of toilet paper when they are crying, wrap our arms around them and care for them. Not just yell from across the room “we’re praying for you” but actually show that we care. How I do that will be different than from how you do that.

Maybe, just maybe, when we care for each other we can find a better solution together that actually cures the cancer rather than covers it up.

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