Sitting in Hatcher Graduate Library, my eyes glaze over my history textbook and I find myself staring out the window at the flagpole. Why is it at half-mast? Now that I think about it, when was the last time I saw flagpoles not at half-mast?
When four students were murdered in my hometown and in my old classroom, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered flags across the state to be lowered for 12 days. After 19 more students and two teachers were murdered in Uvalde, Texas, President Joe Biden ordered flags across the country to be lowered for four days. Today, it turns out, the flag in the Diag is lowered in honor of Queen Elizabeth II; what a relief that it isn’t in memory of dead children.
After Nov. 30, 2021, I had school shooting nightmares every day for six weeks. After Uvalde, another two weeks of nightmares. After I was at the national March For Our Lives Rally in Washington, D.C. on June 11 and a man stormed the stage threatening to shoot us all, and one of my fellow congressional interns had to hold me until I could breathe again, they came back for two more months. After a friend innocently let off a New Year’s Eve popper outside of Pizza House that sounded remarkably like a gunshot, the nightmares came back for another week. I’m exhausted. But isn’t everyone?
So many of us who are supposed to be focusing on becoming the “Leaders and Best” are just focusing on getting through the day. We’re anxious, depressed and terrified of the next horrible thing we’ll see in the news. We’re trying to complete our classes while leaders of this country take away our rights. We’re even trying to avoid getting a deadly virus. We’re preparing for long, vibrant careers even though we know the Earth probably won’t make it that long. Apparently, now, we also have to worry about guns at U-M frat parties.
Living in a society that constantly fails us is exhausting. When we live in a country that leaves us with dead classmates and no bodily autonomy, where do we go from here? How do we get excited about applying for grad school and going to Rick’s when our peers are dying? How do we, as survivors and their loved ones, move forward when there’s a new tragedy every week to remind us?
I don’t mean to pretend there isn’t progress. I stood in the Capitol Building and watched the Protecting Our Kids Act, the largest gun violence prevention law in U.S. history, get passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, despite the Senate bill being much weaker. I’ve seen the Oxford High School students after me dedicate their lives to fighting for Madisyn, Tate, Justin and Hanna. I am so proud of my peers who will not stop marching, yelling and working until they reach their goals. I want to be one of them.
I also stood in the Judiciary Committee hearing room and wiped the tears falling down my face as U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., video-called in from his home for a hearing on how to best prevent school shootings, and showed off all of his military-style guns with their accompanying high capacity magazines. He even explained how many people they would each kill and that he always carries one in public, just before dropping one of the 21-round magazines on the floor. When U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, concernedly asked him if that gun was loaded, he shot back, missing her point entirely: “I’m at my house. I can do whatever I want with my guns.” How do we handle watching news clips of this at night and then immediately going to class the next morning?
Sure, we can vote, volunteer or run for office. We can share what we care about on social media and at the dinner table, but at what point does the omnipresent tragedy overshadow the joy of working for change? At what point do we stop and allow ourselves space to experience the devastating reality around us? Oh sorry, too late, you have a quiz tomorrow. Maybe the next time I see a flag at half-mast I just won’t Google why.
I don’t have a solution. Self-care doesn’t cut it. Self-care won’t protect us from gun violence, police violence, forced births, climate change and the litany of other issues we face every day. It is difficult to truly capture the exhaustion that comes from waking up each day and watching your country fail you. Especially when you’re one of the people who will deal with the reality that 80-year-old senators leave behind. Some of us may respond in different ways, but none of us have the chance to truly feel our grief and concern over the world around us. I’ll never forget those who have been killed, and I will never stop hoping for change. However, I can’t promise I’ll never stop fighting for it. One day, the fatigue of tragedy will take me out.
Maddie Cutler is a junior in the college of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
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