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Don’t Let Fear Make Life Small

When I read the book “In the Wild Light” by Jeff Zentner, I copied words Aunt Betsy said to her nephew Cash, “Fear tells you to make life small.  Don’t give it air to survive.”

            What encouraging words to a teenager to give up life in a small Appalachian town, and, with a close friend, accept the challenge to attend a big city elite prep school.  Cash lived with his grandparents who depended on him and while his friend excelled academically, Cash didn’t.

            Aunt Betsy continued, “You’ll never regret a decision more than one you make out of fear.”

Fear of a leaving the only home ever known.  Fear of leaving aging grandparents. Fear of being unsuccessful as a student.  Fear of moving to a completely different social and academic environment. Those are expected teen-age fears.

But the fear of being shot, and possibly dying, at school or a birthday party should never be children’s fears, nor should they fear that someone they love will be shot while at work. Yet, I think children are afraid because of recent mass shootings. They should never experience such fear.  Never.

As I write this column, the most recent mass shootings in our country were at a school, a bank, and a 16-year-old’s birthday party.

I know a young teenager who told her great-grandmother, “You know Mom (a teacher) and my sisters and I are at four different schools and Grandma works in a bank.  Now, I have to pray really hard every night for all of us.”

This child’s bedtime prayers are for her family members’ and her own safety, certainly not the prayers of a teenager a generation ago.

Last month, when the news broke of the deaths of three students and three adults at The Covenant School in Nashville, I felt great sadness and anger. Venting to a friend, I texted, “Why can just anyone buy an assault weapon? Will it take the death of a million innocent people, kids and adults, for laws to change?  Our state and country are a big mess.”

His response was that it’ll take changing politicians to change the laws, and it probably won’t happen in my generation’s lifetime.  I hope his timeline is wrong.

Has anyone else wondered where you’d take cover if shots were fired?  That thought went through my mind while enjoying a production of ‘Anastasia” at the Cookeville High School auditorium.  If I’m consciously squelching fear, what are our teen-agers feeling?

There must be change, not only laws for the sale of guns, but also in our understanding and treatment of mental illness.  I sympathize with the families of the shooters.  They must grieve and feel regret for not seeing warming signs to prevent tragedy.  I’m sad for them. 

Can we work together so that children and teenagers are safe?  I want their greatest fears to be the fears that the book character Cash felt when he struggled to make a decision. We can’t let fear make lives small.