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  • Writer's pictureCara Gruhala

Time to get small.

It's happened again. We reel. We cry. We sit in silence, but not stunned silence, because this is all too familiar. Another. School. Shooting.

I'm not afraid to age myself and say that the Columbine shooting happened when I was a student in a classroom. During passing period I remember feeling dread. Could this happen to us? Here? The adults did their best to comfort us. The uncertainty never faded, we were forever changed. I can imagine that others my age feel the same loss, the same deep sadness that I feel, to realize that this has been happening regularly for twenty. three. years. We are now the adults doing the comforting. The news no longer shocks us. Our kids are now asking "Could this happen to us? Here?"

As a licensed professional counselor, it would be common for me to post something from one of our professional organizations on how to support one another after an act of community violence.

Something that includes crisis lines, telling you to turn off the TV and to reach out to a professional for support if needed. I started to today, but I was tired. Tired of posting those links over and over with no change. Of course we need to act at our community, state, and federal levels to influence policy advancement. It can feel very helpless though as one person, or even a small group of people, working to alter these systems. We have to hear this devastating news and still make dinner, still go to work the next day, still take the trash out. The world doesn't stop even when we feel like it should give us a collective breath to grieve and regroup.

If you'd like this counselor's thoughts on what to do after yet another school shooting, yet more scary news, yet more problems unsolved and lives lost, it is this:

It's time to get small.

What I mean by that is it's time to withdraw our reach a bit. Time to shrink the diameters of our circles. We must put on our oxygen masks first. We were not designed to withstand the constant barrage of worldwide, and even universe wide news. This can cause feelings of depression, panic, despair, and hopelessness. This constant news cycle, coming from 6-10 different sources daily for the average person, is not good for our brain health. As I was typing that last sentence I got a Reddit notification. It's never ending.

So let's do what is in our control. Let's get small. Let's turn inward to the people, places, and systems where we do have influence. We are wired for connection and community. Let us make cozy nests of comfort items, friends, family, and neighbors. For a moment instead of focusing on what's going on in all corners of the globe, let's plan on sitting next to someone we care about, asking them how they're doing, and really taking time to listen. Let's think about the people in our house, in our building, in our neighborhood that do the brave work of getting up and continuing to live each day, and what we can do for good in these spaces. What brings them joy? What brings us joy? Can I make food for someone to nurture their body? Can I read a child a book to nurture their mind? Can I care for an animal, or at least watch and wonder how they interact with the world? Can I tend my garden and notice the soft green shoots finally poking out of the soil, showing that my work in this tiny space means something? There is something here that wasn't before, and it is because of me.

It's time to pull in and consider what we are grateful for in our own small lives. We can do this in the face of immense sadness and trial, noticing the beauty right along with the pain that the world dishes up. It's time to do two things instead of five, if we can. It's time to sit by a body of water, watch a sunset or a moonrise, consider the seasons, and marvel that nature's cycles continue in such orchestrated precision no matter how much or little we do. It's time to play, to send someone mail, to re-read your favorite book or re-watch The Office for the fifteenth time because the predictability of these imaginary places and people are comforting when everything seems so out of control. Smile a genuine smile at your favorite cafe worker or customer. Get small. Shrink down. Focus on connections and calming your exhausted brain. Turn to your inner circles of trust, the people that recharge your batteries. Consider where your effort is most needed, most effective, and most appreciated. Let yourself recalibrate. Rest. The ripples of our small, focused, intentional efforts magnify in big ways when we do them in conjunction with others who share our focus.

Educators, a postscript for you. This was never a part of your original training or job description. Calculating how many students can fit into your closets and cabinets if the unthinkable happens is terrifying. Teaching your students the most effective items to throw at an intruder is heartbreaking. Pedagogy, classroom management, and...the most effective way to barricade a door. We see you. We will continue to fight so that this one day is no longer part of your story. You get small, to big effect, with your students daily. You turn inward to your classrooms in spite of so many other distractions. You know your students. You create intentional, comfortable environments and build community. You teach and reteach. You find joy in the new skill learned, the recognition of a concept. When you get small, focusing intently on your students, the sparks you create leave your classroom year after year, which can be both sad and hopeful. They continue on, influencing others, until your small turns very big. Your small turns into hundreds if not thousands of connections over the course of a career, and your sparks multiply to light the world. You are so valued. You are worth so much more than you are given.

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