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How to Drive out Darkness

Today is Tuesday, April 20. It is the 14th anniversary of the day that changed my life forever. It is the anniversary of the day that I became a completely different person at the hands of a trauma that, at the time, I did not fully understand. Today, fourteen years ago, I lost Kevin. I went to school that day knowing that we would have more police present in our building than usual. I went to school that day knowing that we would have more police present in our building than usual. I went to school that day knowing that I wasn’t completely safe. I went to school that day trusting that the law enforcement and the school administrators who were in charge of us would take care of us. And they did.

At the end of that day, my best friend begged Kevin’s mother not to let him out of her sight. But she did. That night, Kevin crashed his car into a tree at an incredible speed with two other teenagers in the car. He was killed on impact. What also died that day was the person I was before. In a blink, I became a trauma survivor with anxiety and PTSD and a story that I refused to tell for many, many years.

It took a decade for me to understand that people and their stories are the most important part of our human experiences. It took a decade for me to understand how the story I lived that April day could ever have a positive impact on the people around me. And it took a decade for me to start using my story for good instead of hiding from it. It took ten years for me to heal enough to lean in and to share out—to allow people to understand the why behind who I became that day, and to spread my message that cultivating relationships with people and treating them like the humans they are is the single most important act that we can perform in any organization.

I said in a previous blog post, and would like to reiterate that now, as I sip my second cup of coffee, attempt to share my heart with you, and as my patient is upstairs asleep after an extremely difficult sixth round of chemotherapy (we will get to that later): people will invest when they feel they are an investment.

When the universe gifts you with your message, I have learned, it’s best to lean in and accept it. It’s best to share it every single time you have the chance.

In recent days, I have felt like less than an investment more times than I can count. Teachers, I think in general, struggle with being overlooked often in their careers, but I would argue that keeping good teachers in the profession depends upon our ability and our commitment to NOT overlook them, to NOT expect them to do more work with fewer thanks, and to ensure that they feel not only appreciated, but protected.

Last Friday, we had an unannounced lockdown drill. I won’t get into the specifics of all the reasons this was scary, but I will tell you that I had my students huddled into a corner of my classroom, and I had no prior warning that a drill was coming. The timing of the drill was odd—two minutes before a passing period, and the alarm persisted for quite a while. This occurred the morning after eight Indianapolis residents lost their lives in a massive shooting at a west side FedEx building—less than 25 minutes from where I work. The timing of this “drill” could not have been worse.

At the end of the drill, we were informed over the PA system that a malfunction in the alarm system caused it to go off, and that we should “get on with our days.” Well, let me tell you. At that point, my day was shot. My colleagues were scared. My students were scared. I wasn’t doing great. But we were supposed to “get on with our day.” I had colleagues crying. I had colleagues shaking. I had colleagues holding tears in who finally let them out. I had students with so many questions and fears. And I was supposed to get on with my day.

Do you know who checked on us after that?

I don’t either. Because the answer was no one. Not a single administrator walked upstairs to make sure that we were OK, to pop in and say, “Hey, just making sure you’re good because I know that was kind of scary.”

That didn’t happen. So, I went home and had a couple glasses of wine and moved on. I got on with my day. But my mind never did.

Throughout the weekend, fellow baseball moms, fellow teachers, and friends asked how that went, if we were OK, how we were feeling, all of the things. It was like God wanted me to keep thinking about this. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but I am sure now. I am sure that God wanted me to still be thinking about a lockdown drill on Tuesday, the fourteenth anniversary of Kevin’s death, so that I could, once again, say to people through my instrument—my writing—that investing in people is the single most important thing we can do in our lives. In my book (read it!) I talk about how, as a teacher, no one asks me if I am OK—and that’s still true today. It was still true last Friday.

And it is still disappointing. No, I was not OK. No, my students and colleagues were not OK. But we made it work, just like we always do. Because we are teachers. We are superheroes. And we SHOW UP. We show up when it’s hard. We show up when our voices are shaking. We show up when we have tears in our eyes, or when those tears have started to roll down our cheeks. We are there for each other when no one is there for us. We show up for people because that’s how it works.

After we were pretty scared, our job was to “get on with our day” the best we could. And, like I always do, I saw teachers do incredible things. My day imploded at 9am last Friday, and I immediately called an audible, pivoted, and made sure that we did some of what was on the lesson plan, but that our focus was more on checking on each other. I watched another teacher in my hallway use this as a teachable moment and work with her students on an escape plan, should they ever need to use their second story windows. I watched these grown-ups stifle their own fears and reactions to a pretty scary thing in order to make sure learning occurred, even if it wasn’t the learning we originally had planned.

I haven’t been back to school since Friday because I have a patient. He had his sixth round of chemo yesterday, and he feels like garbage today. I am home supporting him. He shows up for me in incredible ways; I like to think I do the same for him. One way I am showing up for him is managing his medical care—no small task when oncology is involved.

Our oncology office is another place where I don’t feel like we are an investment. Over and over and over again during the last several months, the office staff have dropped the ball and created issues where they didn’t need to be created. I have alluded to our lack of trust in them many times, and I will say that as of today, not a single thing has changed. As I write this, I am waiting for a return phone call from the office manager who, I hope, can share with me why on earth his follow up scans, ordered a month ago, have still not been scheduled. It’s frustrating to have to hold these people accountable at every level. When we walked in yesterday, they knew exactly how much money we owed them—and they tried to collect it. But no one asked how we were; no one asked how Jon was feeling; no one provided some comfort by congratulating him for making it to his sixth treatment or reassuring him that we would get some answers to how well this nightmare has worked in its effort to save his life. They wanted their money. Send me a bill, people. Get in line.

Hence, I wait for the phone call.

I wait to feel like we are more than a dollar amount on a bill.

I wait to feel reassurance from the people who work there that they do, in fact, care what my husband’s name is, and who he is fighting for.

I remind them often who this fight is for. Their names are Jack and Andrew. They are 12 and 5, and they need their dad. So, when the office staff members go home at night, presumably, to their perfectly healthy families, I hope they remember my babies’ names and realize who my husband is fighting for. I pray they will one day understand the true meaning of investing in people. The day for them to realize this was not yesterday, and it’s unlikely that it will be today, but I will continue to remind them.

I will continue to remind administrators, office managers, and professionals at every level: people will invest when they feel they are an investment.

Will we handle this office differently? Will I stop showing up for my students? Absolutely not. We will model what we are preaching. We will send coffee and bagels and a thank you note to the office staff this Friday, just like we originally planned, to show them what it means to invest in people, to show up for them. I will ask my fellow teachers how they are doing, if they are OK, even when no one else does, so they know that someone out there is invested in their well-being.

Kevin lost his life fourteen years ago today, and in so many ways, he gave me mine. As this is being written, I have texted back and forth with some colleagues who survived that day with me. And to one, I said, “Show up today—it’s the only way to drive out darkness.” And it’s true.

On the anniversary of Kevin’s death, when he would be 33 years old and grown—which will never stop blowing my mind, my encouragement to all of you is to show up for someone today. Drive out your own share of darkness and help someone else remember why they need to do this, too. After all, the only way to combat the darkness is to be a light for someone else.

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