Gun violence, mental illness, school shootings: Is my paranoia justified, then?

NYTimes: A flag at half-staff on Main Street in downtown Newtown on Saturday morning.So I guess I’m not as paranoid as I thought… Or the world has become a more realistic place for people with morbid imaginations like myself…

Set your mind back eight years. Remember the Beslan school hostage crisis? The massacre in September 2004, erupting from a local school hostage crisis that lasted a whole three days, including the capture of over 1,100 people (including 777 children) and ended with over 380 children and adults murdered.

That horrible terrorist tragedy really shook me. Violently. To my core. Something inside me was never replaced after that. Back in 2004, I didn’t have my own children yet. I was single, about to make aliyah, and absolutely horrified as I read every single detail while my eyes stung and my face soaked in tears.

I didn’t have kids yet, but it stuck with me, somewhere deep, dormant. Years later, when I started sending my oldest to a maon, a local kindergarten here in Israel, the Beslan massacre edged back into my consciousness.

One of the safest places in the world for a child, invaded. A schoolhouse raped by violence. Death in a classroom door. If it could happen because of terrorism there, surely it could happen here, in Israel. Even right here, in suburban Tzur Hadassah. In fact, it has happened, in the very beds of sleeping babes.

Surely there are troubled, evil spirits everywhere.

And so it’s been, for the last few years of every morning splitting my soul into two, and then three, as I send my kids into their gans, my mind wanders to an ugly place. Two to three times a week, it creeps into the outskirt of my typically rational lobe, whispering to me, what if. And so, if the gate is ajar, I make sure it’s locked when I leave. If I see a stranger loitering outside, I wait until I can suss out their purpose. And as I drive off, each time, I spend a couple microseconds pushing these thoughts out of my way.

And I’ve assumed I am paranoid. Morbid.

Did the parents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut ever feel that way?

From reading up since the massacre, I learned the Sandy Hook school seems to be pretty tight with their security. And not in an inner-New York City way. Visitors must be buzzed in (on a typical day). The teachers held occasional drills to be prepared for ‘lockdown’ which apparently happened quite liberally. I found that shocking, actually. Security drills are the new fire drills in today’s America, perhaps.

Can it happen in Israel? Absolutely. This is a mental health care issue as much as, if not way more, than it is a gun accessibility/control/rights issue. And Israel’s gun control (yes, it’s actual gun control policy) is not an acceptable model for the U.S. of a “gun-toting utopia” as some would like to claim.

But mental health care – that’s another challenge.

In fact, it’s incredibly frustrating that ‘gun control’ is trending everywhere while ‘mental health care’ or ‘mental illness’ is still the untouched, ugly, misunderstood American elephant. I do hope President Obama is serious about taking “meaningful action” after this latest in an entire series of deadly shooting attacks in the second half of 2012 alone.

But meaningful action is not just centered around gun control, please. We Americans don’t have an encouraging health care system in place – and beyond that, a welfare management system for the mentally ill – in order to make serious changes regarding how these individuals are functioning (or not) in society. Forget Obamacare. As we all know, health care – and mental health care structure – are broken in the United States.

And Israel – well, it’s just as bad on that side of things. Kupot (the national insurance companies) barely cover therapy sessions, let along drugs related to mental illness, conditions, disorders. Even private insurance here isn’t inclusive.

From the classroom, I’ve heard from teacher-friends that learning disabilities are routinely denied in the classroom, or staff don’t have the education or tools for coping with it. For children with special needs, there are resources here and there, but until what point? And that doesn’t even touch the issue of what happens after the school system… Or way beyond learning disorders – serious mental illness.

This morning, after dropping the kids off, I did my morning walk routine. It includes a chance to peep through the fence that surrounds Tzur Hadassah and see from the outside of the yishuv the building where I send my son every day. Part of my crazy is that I often look to make sure everything is peaceful on the outside. No one strange lurking. That the gate is closed.

I wondered, as I approached today, what I could possibly see there. What kind of wide range of events is possible in such a twisted, ill world.

Who hasn’t been dreading the names of the 20 Newtown children being released. Who can  handle their names, their ages. Their pictures. There’s really nothing to say.

As an American, a parent, a human, I hope “meaningful action” means something, on the part of all of us operating in society.

RIP Vicki Soto, a hero with no other choice to make than the right one… 

Must-watch: What teachers do: Kaitlin Roig, first grade teacher, shares her account of how she protected her class… “I wanted them to know someone loved them… I wanted that to be the last thing they heard…”

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