I’ve written before about the role of emotion in creativity. I’ve thought about the social and emotional learning necessary to develop a creative environment, and about the challenges of dealing with the inevitable failures along the creative path. What I haven’t considered, at least not here, are the times when emotions overwhelm the possibilities for creativity. There are times when stressors make our thoughts freeze—when even fight or flight are too hard. There are times when our brains and bodies just say, “No more.”
I’ve taught and read about such reactions when dealing with trauma and toxic stress in young people. I’d never thought about it in relation to my own work. Yet, this afternoon I sat, the day after yet another horrific school shooting, staring at my keyboard with my brain unwilling to move.
Over the years, I have known parents who have lost children. In two cases, I’ve been with them in the immediate overwhelming pain. There is nothing like it. Just the memory of it makes my heart break again, for them and for those who are in the midst of that torrent of emotion today. No one recovers from losing a child. Not really.
I am a teacher. I work with teachers. I write for teachers. And at this moment, every teacher I know is in pain. We are frozen, feeling at once angry and helpless. Schools are supposed to be the safe space for children who feel unsafe. Teachers committed to create that space and nurture those children—but now, how? How do we create a sense of safety and community while conducting active shooter drills? I don’t know. The United States has a lot of work to do.
For today, if you are feeling frozen, just breathe. When you return to school, be gentle with yourself and those around you. Do what you can. For some, a return to routine will provide needed stability. For others, math and history may be too much to manage right now. There are wounds we can’t see. Perhaps some of them are yours. While thoughts and prayers are a pale excuse for change, they still are important. Teachers, students, parents–you have mine.