Occasionally, in the middle of class, I’m visited by a horrible thought: what if a shooter burst through the door? There I am, up in front of the room, a prime target, and there my students are, tucked away behind laptops or bent over notebooks. Could there be a more vulnerable moment? What would I do? What could I do? Fear, panic, rage, and helplessness swamp me all at once. Like many universities, mine has installed special barricading devices for classroom doors that can be used in case of emergencies. But these devices only work if you have time to use them. Like most faculty members, I’ve had training in spotting and reporting at-risk students. And, like many of us, I’ve had active shooter training, which, to be honest, doesn’t feel much more comforting than the tornado drills in elementary school where we knelt in the halls and covered our heads, or the old A-Bomb drills that had students kneel beneath their desks. The same horrible thought comes to me sometimes during large public events as well as small, routine outings like a meal in a restaurant, a trip to the mall, sitting in church.
How do we think about mass shootings vocationally? I do not know. But we need to. Our vocations and our lives are imperiled by them. As professors and teachers and, really anyone in any workplace, place of worship, or public venue, we are always under this looming cloud. What’s more, it’s in the back of our students’ minds, and it will be in their futures. Vocational studies must equip students to flourish in a world wherein lives and their purposes are randomly, senselessly, and suddenly, snuffed out. “Dying ain’t in people’s plans, is it?” A teenage character, reflecting on the death of a kid his own age, says in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. Increasingly, it is in ours. Seen this way, the reality of our vulnerability to mass shootings fits Wadell and Pinches‘ definition of a called life: “a fundamental way of thinking about ourselves and about our place in the world.”Continue reading