After the Virginia Tech shootings, the whole world mourned, including our world on the Navajo Nation. But when you’re perched on top of a mesa in the middle of a desert, hours from high-rises more than 3- or 4-stories high, it’s easy to feel very far away, no matter how tragic the event.
So while I heard my students express their horror and sadness over the massacre, I knew that some of them didn’t quite comprehend its tragedy. I knew that because I overheard quiet chuckling from several students after one made a crude and completely inappropriate comment about the attack. I was disgusted and angry (and I wrote him up), but luckily my teacher-composure kicked in. I didn’t yell at them. I tried to teach them something instead.
After emphasizing the inappropriateness of the comment, I gathered them all around in a circle. We talked about the shooting, what happened, and how sad it was. But then I told them that I grew up a mere 4-hours away from the city where it happened. And that I knew people who attended the university. And worst of all, my best friend had a close friend who was shot by the gunman. Twice. Once in the stomach and once in the leg.
They were stunned and couldn’t believe me at first. It hit closer to home now that this bad event happened to someone their own teacher had a connection with. They stopped commenting on our discussion and just sat quietly to think. Simply through association, they now knew someone who was shot. Simply through association, they moved closer to Blacksburg.
Now they wanted to know what they could do. They could write condolence cards. They could pray for the families that were affected. But most importantly, they could have empathy and care. This simple task took some students by surprise. But it wasn’t so simple, I pointed out. By having empathy, you’re recognizing that bad things can happen anywhere. So be nice. Show respect. Put yourself in other people's situations. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Explain this to others who may not understand. And remember that being on top of a mesa in the middle of a desert is never too far away.