An Optimist Deals with Death

I’ve been a positive person my entire life – not because I believe that everything will work out in the end, or that “things happen for a reason,” but because in this short life, there is, in my purview, no reason to go through it sad. I enjoy moments, find joy in them, save them for another time when I need them. I am Billy Pilgrim, returning to a sun-soaked snooze in a wheelbarrow during my time of strife.

But there are times when it seems like all the positive attitude I can muster is not enough to battle the very real monsters knocking on my door. Yesterday, four hours from my home, my work, my school, another angry, violent white male decided that it was his right to take the lives of seventeen others.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I watched as young boys struggled to hoist teddy bears taller than themselves through the gates of the parking lot, hoping to catch their girlfriends (how long has it been? a week, a month, a year? All an eternity to them) before they get to class so they don’t have to carry it around all day. Girls decked out in pinks and reds, and even I got into the spirit, donning a cream dress embroidered with red hearts.

When I got home, my husband and daughter greeted me with love, arms outstretched to welcome me home after a cheerful day of happy students, happy teachers, happy classrooms.

Then the news came. Instead of students walking home with outlandish Valentine’s gifts, I imagined abandoned stuffed animals strewn across classroom floors, left behind after the SWAT teams evacuated their would-be recipients. Balloons tied to lockers meant as a celebration of life and love, now macabre markers, alerting authorities as to where they should be looking for the bodies.

It’s hard to be an optimist on a normal day. On a day like this, it’s impossible – I know that nothing will come of this. In a year there will be a memorial. A pro-gun control group will remind us what happened, but others will have forgotten. But it will happen again, because nothing will be done to stop it.

As I watch my students come through my doors today, they will know that I love them, that I see them, that they matter to me. I will find joy in them, in my work. I will find joy with my family, with my home. But I will not be optimistic for a future that I cannot believe in.


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