In August 1986 I started school. I was 2 1/2 years old, and I think my mother figured it was time for me to get out of the house and see the world, or at least the preschool at Thoreau Park Elementary School. In a few short months, that will have been 30 years ago. And while those first 3 years of pre-school (my mother really wanted me out of the house…) may have consisted only of half-days, they did run the entire length of the school year. This means that, as of Spring 2016, I’ve completed 30 school years, as either a student or a teacher.
So don’t tell anyone that I told you this, but sometimes I have a super special surprise Friday joke. And here’s today’s… A pilot, a know-it-all, a boy, and a minister are on an airplane. The engines fail and the plane begins to go down. There are 3 parachutes. The pilot grabs a parachute and yells “I have a wife and family, and a daughter who is expecting – I need to live to support them!” and jumps out. The know-it-all springs up, grabs a parachute, and proclaims “I’m the smartest man on the earth, I deserve to live”, and jumps out. The minister turns to the boy and says “My son, I’ve lived a long and meaningful life – take the last parachute and live”. The boy hands the minister the parachute as he grabs something from under the seat. “Turns out we both can live”, he says, “The smartest man on the earth just jumped out wearing my backpack!”
In case you’re wondering, I’m still alive and plan on blogging a bit now that A) that novel is done and B) I’m recovered enough to consider blogging a fun activity again!. Soonish you’ll see more here. Until then, feel free to comment with what types of content you’d like to see show up!
Today at 10:34 AM, my phone buzzed in class, while I was giving a lecture on Probability Sampling methods. The first message simply read “SCHOOLCAST: Emergency Alert:” and nothing more. I paused for a moment, figured it was either an error or a test, and continued on. About 5 minutes later, my students interrupted me – they’d gotten messages too, and began uttering the phrase “Active Shooter”. I checked my phone again, and saw the actual message, advising us to take immediate lock down action. I walked over to the classroom door, verified it was locked, and shut it.
Over the next 3 hours, my classroom was the scene of a number of discussions and moments of both light joking and nervous quiet. Students comforted each other when they needed to, rumors flew as we all saw our phones light up from every conceivable app, and we kept each other as calm and collected as possible. My students didn’t panic. We waited until around 2 PM when we knew the building to be secure, and started letting students have limited bathroom trips, always traveling with a buddy or 3. Finally at 2:30 students were evacuated from my building, and I left shortly after to head home.
When I got in my car, I took stock of what had happened. I had started off a normal Monday morning, and it had ended in the mid-afternoon with classes interrupted and cancelled, students shaken, and a colleague dead.
Addressing the last portion, I knew Ethan Schmidt professionally, and slightly more in that we were Facebook friends, we would talk and joke at various meetings, and each knew about the other’s classes and work. I had met one of his sons, and knew of his family trips through last summer. We both shared a love of Baseball, and spoke of it when we’d see each other. My students all spoke highly of Ethan, and I never doubted what they said. It was clear to all who knew the man that he was a true gentleman, as another professor dubbed him during a Fox News interview. (I myself was asked for comment by news organizations, but felt that anything I was going to say, I wanted full control over – hence this post). First and foremost today, we should acknoweldge that a man died, and that the lives of his family, his students, his peers, and his institution will never be the same. Rest now Ethan, and know that you are missed.
About 20 minutes after we went into lockdown, with rumors flying, one of my students asked the group if they wanted to pray with her. Many of us did, and she gave a short, eloquent prayer that summed up what we all felt: Please keep us safe, keep our campus safe, and be with those who were injured. Over the next several minutes, students asked me questions – mostly what I’d heard through the official channels (Which was enough to know what to do, and information as it became available – contrary to what some have suggested, the administration played this one very well – my Dean and Chair were both in communication via email, and nothing was released that could cause panic or unnecessary alarm). They also asked what I was thinking and feeling. I responded that we needed to stay calm, because there was nothing we could do about the situation – we just needed to wait. As the minutes turned into hours, the mood lightened in the room (including jokes about who we’d eat once we got too hungry , since we’d missed lunch). We knew our building’s external doors had been secured (Professors have keys that can lock and unlock the external doors, and indeed, it was two professors who had manned the doors on the first floor while awaiting law enforcement). We knew that law enforcement from the surrounding area had converged, and that those whose job it is to take care of us, were indeed doing that job.
I’ll take a moment to thank the law enforcement community that responded to the situation. They were calm, measured, and professional, putting their lives on the line to protect ours. The ATF officers who evacuated us did not shout to us orders, they spoke to us calmly, instructed us on where to go, and answered our questions.
I’d also like to take a moment and thank my family and friends who “checked in” with me. On a day like this, one appreciates all of the support one has. I was truly moved by the number of people who reached out, and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to respond very quickly or respond individually to each query. My number one priority was keeping my students safe (us prof types get very protective of our students!), so my responses were pretty short and laggy!
It’s easy for us, in times like this, to search for answers that just aren’t available to us, or may never be. We don’t know, as of now, the exact motive for this crime. We don’t know who has done this, although a suspect has been named. We don’t know when classes will resume (although we suspect Wednesday). We are severely tempted to pursue rumor, conjecture, and half-truths. We are severely tempted to embrace a story that seems to make sense of tragedy. We are severely tempted to ignore the fact that violence is often seemingly the only answer for those who are angry, or mentally disturbed. We are tempted to grab at anything that can pull us away from this day. But we can’t fall for that temptation. We all possess the empathetic skill to imagine what it must be like for Ethan’s family tonight – we dare not do so because we recognize the immense pain they must be feeling. We want that pain to go away, but it will not without us first dealing with it, and working through it.
What we do know is that today, Delta State University pulled together as one true DSU family, and we mourn the loss of one of our members tonight. The Fighting Okra will step up to the fight again soon, but tonight he trades his sneer for a heavy heart.
Recently I’ve found myself writing comments on other people’s posts and then deciding at the last moment not to post them. Obviously it’s a good idea to always read over what you intend to say before you say it, and it’s usually at that point that I realize that what I’m about to say isn’t as much helpful as it is selfish. How can one be selfish when virtually commenting? It’s really easy – it starts with the “Oh yeah, I do that too!” feeling.
For example, friend A posts that they’re thinking of trying a new restaurant, and you feel a sense of comraderie since you’ve also eaten at that restaurant (or eat at new restaurants too). You rush to post something like “Yeah, I love that place – I stumbled upon it a few years ago and really liked it”. Then it hits you – that’s an absolutely useless comment. All it does is tell the person that you agree with them, and that you did what they propose first. A better response? “Yeah, I love that place. The chicken marsala was good, and the salads were unique – not just a standard salad you could get anywhere”. Now you’ve given some actual information – a mini review – and held off the urge to say “I did this first!”. Your friend finds your comment useful, as do others, and it doesn’t sound like the internet equiviliant of the old message board mantra “Me Too”.
My goal is to try to add more substance to my comments and less selfish boasting. I’m sure I’ll fail multiple times in the process, because talking about oneself is so easy to do, we do it without thinking, but at least I’ll be making the effort!
Karey & I are watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and we just finished the three episode arc that starts the second season (The Homecoming, The Circle, & The Siege). I haven’t watched those episodes in about 15 years, and you know what impressed me? The extreme lack of something: Explosions.
You see, back when I was growing up, you could have a story unfold over 135 hours with just a couple of small firefights (4 that I can think of) and some limited effects. The story was the point, it’s what people tuned in for. The eye candy was… well, just eye candy. Today I don’t think any network or producer would let that slide (One could argue this was exactly what made TNG & DS9 special: Lack of a network overseer). Today you’re much more likely to find directors like Peter DeLuise who scream “B-I-G-G-E-R” – if we don’t see things blowing up and people shooting for at least five minutes at a time, it’s not worth it.
Which is a shame. When I think about the influence Star Trek had on my early life, I realize that I found it far more interesting to take the non-force option into account to get where I wanted. Sure, I was big enough that I could use force – be physically intimidating – but that just led to consequences. Usually short-term gain and long-term pain. Pull a page from the Picard playbook and you get where you want to be with little collateral damage (usually). I think we’ve lost some of that in recent years – we’ve forgotten that we can use diplomacy, cunning, words and subtle actions. When I think of my leisure activities now – which are principally centered around spending time with others and learning about them, I see the influence of Trek. Thank you Star Trek, for teaching me as a young adult to not only enjoy story-based Sci Fi, but also story-driven life.