I don't usually write about work. I try really hard to keep my personal life and my professional life separate. Today, however, I feel the need to talk about it... since they are starting to collide.
I'm in social work. I work with "at-risk" young adults. I really do love my job and the young people that I work with, but, the work is hard and we don't always "win". It seems like every weekend in Portland someone gets shot, stabbed, commits suicide, or is in some kind of accident..and sometimes they die. If the news reports that the victim/suspect is in their teens or 20s, I automatically wonder if I know them. Sometimes, I do.
In the 8 years or so that I've been doing this kind of work, I can name at least three young people that I have had some kind of a professional connection to who have died (one by their own hand, two others at the hands of someone else), and another who has killed someone. I have had clients who I knew carried a gun (though was never sure when/if it was on them). I have been in the same room with another, for several hours, who I didn't know was armed... and who immediately pulled that gun on another youth within a block of leaving our building. And all of these are just the cases that I know... I'm sure there are many, many more acts of violence that I have no idea about. Those who are never caught. Crimes that are never reported. Street kids who disappear and we never really know why.
This year I have several clients who are graduating from different alternative schools in the area. One invitation that I received warned that certain colors/clothing would be banned. Guests were prescreened by administrators against known gang affiliations. While I chose not to attend that ceremony, I did attend another, this evening. Two of my clients graduated. They both gave speeches (one even mentioned me... I was honored). It was a great ceremony. But it was the first time that I can remember, that I actual felt fear in a public situation.
I had no reason to. There were no "shady characters". It was a pretty low-key ceremony at an elementary school. But, after several shootings in Portland this weekend, and the news coverage in Santa Monica, I found myself checking for the nearest exits. I found myself wondering, if someone opened fire, what I would do. Would I push my way through the crowd for the nearest exit and run like hell as far as I could away from that school, or would I try to protect someone else? I knew several of those in attendance. There were children everywhere. Seeing those children made me realize that, I feel bad saying this... I think I would run like hell. Saving myself would save my daughter from losing her mother. Saving myself would allow me to spend more time with her, to see her grow, to hear her finally say "Mama"... to make her laugh... to run around in the park... to see that big smile while going down the slide.
Our world is dangerous. I have never really felt "unsafe" while in the confines of work (the youth that we work with take some pride in our programs and I've often feel kind of protected), however the youth that we work with... they have family, friends, peers, enemies, lives in the community... and those lives could very easily overlap with mine.
Someday I could be in the wrong place at the wrong time... and there's very little that I can do about it.