By Ruby Van Dyk, Editor In Chief
I don’t remember September 11th, 2001, not really. My memories of that day stem from information I’ve gathered over the years, my parents recounting their own memories, documentaries, discussing it in social studies. I know the facts. Two terrorist planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York City and 2,753 Americans were killed. I’ve seen pictures, heard the stories of people calling their loved ones, dogs saving humans, people accidentally taking the wrong route to work, but still I don’t really have any direct personal emotional tie to that event, just because I wasn’t old enough. The first vivid memory I have of being shaken, and very aware of how violent our world could truly be, was on December 14th, 2012. This was the day that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place, and I was in the 8th grade. I remember walking out of history class and hearing a kid say something about a shooting involving little kids. At first, I thought he might be making a sick joke, but I decided to walk to the library, half horrified and half curious about what I’d heard. When I pulled up the New York Times there it was: “22 children dead” “Death count not final.” pictures of mothers sobbing and police cars surrounding the school. I cried for a very long time that day after school.
I’m a very emotionally sensitive person. I get shaken up fairly easily. Nobody does well with these sorts of events, but I really don’t. With Sandy Hook, I didn’t personally know any of those children, or anybody that knew those children, but my heart broke. My heart broke because those children were people. People with mothers and fathers and sister and brothers. People who’d now never graduate from school, fall in love, start a family, travel the world. For a 14 year old kid who had never felt anything close to true loss or sadness in her life, this all seemed like too much. Too much for me to even process, let alone get over. All I could think about were those families and wondered, how would they be able to look out into the world and keep going?
Now, I wish I could say that the violence ended there, that we mourned Sandy Hook and remembered it, that I was never forced to face another tragedy like it again as I continued my teenage years. But, as we all know, the violence didn’t end. Since Sandy Hook, there have been 892 mass shootings in the U.S, and every day the numbers continue to get worse. In 2015 alone, a mass shooting occurred in the United States during every week besides one. This isn’t even to mention the amount of terrorist attacks, or violent crimes that happen worldwide. I’m now 17 years old- I have my life in front me, the world in front of me- and I’m scared. Scared because of these numbers. Scared because I want to live in a world where I can travel, and feel safe. Where other 17 year old girls can speak their mind and not fear for their lives. Scared because I want to bring my own children into a world where they, too, can travel, and speak out, and not feel as though violence is a looming presence that constantly haunts them. Sadly, as of right now, I don’t know if I’ll be able to.
The true impact of this violence on us as young people is prevalent in our reactions to it. I don’t come home crying after I hear about these incidents anymore. I don’t. Remember, I’m generally pretty sensitive, but I’m numb. It’s my normal now. When my 86 year old Nana hears about these tragedies, it is as though her world has stopped, she reacts the same way that I did to Sandy Hook, every time. She grew up in an era where violence was not constantly surrounding her, in media, conversation, and in real life. My grandma didn’t have social media, hear about school shootings every month, or watch R rated movies as a young person, but the majority of us now do. Because of this, we no longer weep at these tragedies as frequently. We see them on our cellphones, feel sad, comment on the horror of it all, put the victims in our thoughts and prayers, and then forget them in a week. This isn’t to say we aren’t upset by it, but just less so than we would be if they didn’t take place as frequently. This concept, this relative numbness and normalcy that we feel toward violence, is often referred to as “desensitization.” The more we’re exposed to violence, the less sensitively we react to it, and this, the fact that this is occurring, upsets me to the core. When a person is lost to violence, we should not only remember and honor them, but feel an innate responsibility to make a change and prevent it from ever happening again. That is our responsibility to each other as human beings, and we are currently failing.
But even though we’re failing, even in the face of this horror, of all this violence and pain, I still have hope. I have hope and faith in the very same species that has caused this all: us, human beings. I truly believe that at core, at our root, we are inherently good. This isn’t to say that every basket doesn’t have a few bad apples in it, but as a whole, we are good. We mustn’t accept this as our reality, but how do we even begin to tackle an issue like this? The first step to solving any problem is recognizing that you have one, and I think we can all recognize that. I don’t have all the answers, nobody does, and I’m not going to tell you how to prevent every violent incident from occurring, or argue about gun control, but I can tell you this: There are two things that I know we need to start doing, the first being talking with each other. We need to talk about this problem, with our friends and family and neighbors and teachers. We need to discuss how violence makes us feel, and stop brushing it to side. The second thing is that we need to start humanizing violence. Look it straight in the face, and accept that it’s real. We need to visit those who have been impacted, volunteer with those who have suffered and listen to their stories. We need to put a human face to the consequences of the horror, and learn to empathize. And I know we can, we can because we’re good, we’re better than thoughts and prayers, we are. We are action takers. As young people, as future lawyers, doctors, soldiers, teachers, parents, we have the power to stand up and say that we’re done treating violence in this way. We need to say as teenagers, as a generation, and as human beings that we’ve had enough. If we can do that, I think we’ll not only have an impact on our reactions to violence, but on violence itself.