“Gun, run!” Whether those were the only two words that registered or the only two words I heard, those were the words that made my world stop as I looked around in slow motion trying to get my eyes on my daughter as cheerleaders, football players, parents, grandparents, and coaches started to run. We can talk all day long about what we would do in that situation, but until it happens, there is no way to understand the things that go through each individuals head as they are running from the gun. “Run, run, run!” Those were the words that permeated the air. The words that ignited terror in toddlers, teens, and adults alike.
Veterans’ and police training snaps back into play for some as they try to get people to safety and are ready to protect their community. Pure adrenaline runs through the veins making it possible to jump fences and help those who aren’t able get over. No one will be left behind. Dozens of children and mothers flock into a small locker room. I stand outside as I still don’t have eyes on my daughter, yet I have eyes all over the park looking for her, because those are the AMAZING people I’m surrounded with. I know that as soon as someone has eyes on her, my phone will ring.
Little did I know I didn’t even have my phone for a brief period because it fell out of my pocket while hopping the second fence. What is the likelihood the stranger who found it walks to the one person who would push the button on the phone to see my and my boyfriend’s picture on it and know exactly where I was? But, not just that, it was my best friend and the person I was at the game with. She knew exactly where I was standing and handed me the phone. In my hyper-focused state, I didn’t even have a memory of her handing me the phone, but God was looking out for me, and no one could tell me different.
As a mom, I have a check list of all the kids I know going off in my head knowing where I last saw them in case I see their parents or hear someone calling for them. In my head praying that I will see my daughter in one of these batches of kids. “She’s gone, the kids are safe to come out.” Police presence has arrived and the shooter fled.
I’m standing directly in front of the locker room as I watch the kids exit. The memory that will be burned in my head is the one that followed. Kids of all ages crying, screaming, and shaking exiting that locker room. Some have no idea if their parents, grandparents, teammates, friends, or coaches are okay. No one knows if anyone has been shot or got hurt trying to flee. Parents looking on, holding their breath, and hoping their loved one(s) will exit the locker room. Still, no sign of my daughter.
Tears fill my eyes not knowing if she is scared hiding somewhere or hurt. I have no idea if she is with other girls or stranded alone somewhere. The team starts gathering back at the tent—still no sign. I can’t write this next part without tears running down my face because of how blessed I feel to know the friends, parents, kids, and coaches that I do. I had eyes everywhere. One of my friends called to tell me that there were four cheerleaders hiding in a truck. I start moving towards the parking lot as I spot her walking towards the team tent. She was safe.
Once I could stop and look back, I realized what an amazing community I’m a part of. From the people helping get eyes on all the kids, people staying back to help others over fences, people helping direct people to safety, and others helping to keep others from freezing in their tracks, we stood together as a community. Nothing divided us in that moment. We were all in this together.
The next day, we already had planned to gather for team pictures. This community is now bonded tighter than ever. As people told their stories of the day, other stories began to emerge to see that for some—this was not their first time running from the gun. My now 14-year old daughter is a part of the growing numbers that have had this experience.
Thankfully, no one that I know of was physically hurt that day, but there were people whose PTSD was triggered, and some of them have no idea that they even have that. Others, will be traumatized from this event because people will expect them to shove the feelings and experience down. This isn’t intentionally to hurt someone. This is how generations of people are taught to cope, but ends up turning into future problems because a person’s reaction to something else will be triggered by the events of that traumatic day that they never fully processed.
It’s VERY important that we allow people to talk through their feelings and experiences how THEY experienced it from their own point of view. It’s important that a person is allowed to cry, shake, and scream without someone telling them not do do that or feel that way. Looking up “Feeling Wheels” online and having a person specifically talk about which feelings they are feeling is EXTREMELY helpful. They have these wheels for toddlers to adults. The best way to help someone through traumas like this is to allow them to feel through it. It can look scary and ugly, but if they are able to work through their feelings in a healthy way, it may stop the experience from turning into a debilitating psychological condition. Teaching people to shove feelings down or numb them can also lead to addiction as a form of self-medication.
With a growing number of children having to experience running from the gun, I hope we start hearing more stories from specialized psychologists, psychotherapists, trauma therapists, and social workers about how to help them PROCESS the experience in the healthiest way possible. We can talk all we want about prevention, but let’s face what we are being faced with now. Let’s make sure we are not continuing the vicious cycle of mentally unstable people out there with guns because of past unhealed experiences. Healthy minds lead to healthy actions, reactions, and responses.
Last year, I was blessed to facilitate a Heart Wisdom Panel (click for link) with Fred Guttenberg. He’s the author of Find the Helpers and the father of Jaime Guttenberg who was murdered in the mass school shooting in Parkland, FL. I remember reading his book in horror of what it would feel like to know your kids were in this kind of horrific situation. I felt tremendous empathy for the families, faculty, kids, and community. Yet, running from the gun was never my experience, so I had no idea on how truly horrifying it was to run and not know what will come next. I still don’t know what it would be like to actually be in a situation where lives are lost, but so many people do. I have tremendous empathy for them.
Living life from a loving place doesn’t mean that I’m not going to experience traumatic events or have to go through challenging times. It doesn’t mean I won’t face feelings of pain, fear, panic, anger, sadness, or grief. I’m human and all these feelings are apart of the human experience. What I have figured out along the way is that even when I feel these feelings that aren’t always pretty, I can embrace them with love. I can allow the feelings to add to my ability to feel compassion and empathy for others. I know what running from the feelings does, and I know that I rather find healthy ways to process things than allow the shoved down feelings space to turn into psychosis, disease, and/or addiction. I will keep choosing to show up and see each experience as an opportunity to be a better and healthier human.
I don’t want any human’s experience to be running from the gun, but if that is their experience, I want to make sure I’m contributing to helping them find healthy ways to process the experience so that it doesn’t take them down long after the experience is over. I want survivors of the experience to feel empowered to do good in the world and keep choosing to live. Thankfully, trauma therapies have come along way since I was a teen. I have tried, read, and studied many different approaches including traditional, new-age, spiritual, and physical. Some are free and others are expensive, but one thing I know is when I sincerely ask for help and am open to allow that help to reveal itself, I get the help I need 100% of the time. I just have to be willing to stay out of my own way, which means no running, numbing, ignoring, or suppressing what is really going on inside of me. Finding ways to process challenging situations gives me the ability to show up for others in the healthiest way possible, and THAT is what I want. That is what I’m doing here. I’m sharing part of my process with you.
To all the people who have had to run from gun, I’m truly sorry that you had to go through the experience. I’m grateful you are here today. I pray for all the families, communities, and friends of those who didn’t survive the run.
These are my personal perspectives. Each person has a right to feel how they feel and experience events in whatever way they do. This experience is what is true for me. Living from a loving place is what helps me find peace, love, and abundance in this life, and it’s how I choose to live. No one has to agree with how I choose to live my life, but if how I live my life helps others, I celebrate being able to contribute to someone feeling inspired or empowered to grow from each experience no matter how challenging those experiences are. I debated whether or not to write this, but I kept getting called back to the page. Thank you for reading.
With Love, Compassion, and Gratitude,
©Rachael Wolff 2021
Author of Letters from a Better Me