Yesterday, thousands of children and teens in Los Angeles woke up to the news that school was closed.
But the news didn’t carry with it the normal glee of an unexpected snow day or an early closing before a holiday.
Buses that had already started on their routes returned to parking lots, sitting empty for the day. Some students who hadn’t heard the news in time arrived on foot or by car with friends only to discover abandoned campuses and their classmates being sent back home. Over 900 public schools and 187 public charter schools in the system halted operations, leaving 640,000 students with no place to go.
What kind of warning caused this type of mass response?
Details are still unclear, but the threat arrived by email to several school board members and suggested that many schools within the district were being targeted. It mentioned backpacks and packages being left on campus. City officials in L.A., not wanting to take any chances in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting, reacted swiftly and cautiously. More than 2,700 officers were dispatched for walk-throughs at more than 1,500 closed school sites in searches for explosives or weapons.
The same threat was also issued to the New York City public school system, but officials there didn’t think it was credible enough to close schools.
Around 12:30 p.m., the threat was determined to be “a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities,” according to the House Intelligence Committee. But by then, L.A., having already made a difficult choice, watched chaos ensue.
Many parents had been forced to find alternative child care or miss work (likely an unthinkable option for many low-wage workers). Some parents were left looking for their children they had sent off to school that morning. Traffic was gridlocked.
And if that weren’t enough, students who depend on school meal programs were facing a day without breakfast or lunch.
That is, until concerned L.A. residents went into action.
By mid-morning, hundreds of people were using the hashtag #LALunch to ask restaurants to offer free meals to the more than three-quarters of the district’s students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
And some restaurants happily obliged:
This swift and thoughtful effort reminded me of a comforting principle that we’ve seen play out time and time again:
Most people hope that one day love will conquer the fear caused by violence and prevent these acts from occurring in the first place.
But love is also there in the meantime. It’s what we can turn to and practice when the fear disrupts us.
When threats and violence make us uncomfortable and shake up our day, love isn’t just the power that we hope will stop bad things from happening.
It’s how we step up at the very moments that we feel most powerless.
I don’t know about you, it’s hard to process all the terrorism and violence, guns and bomb threats. And I don’t always know how to deal with a world that can look eerily similar to 1950s America with its hate speech and bomb drills. We don’t always know what to do about the big things.
But on days when thousands of parents are terrified and children are forced out of a place that should be a safe haven, we can, at the very least, provide lunch, offer to watch our neighbor’s daughter, keep our libraries open just a little longer, and be flexible and understanding with our employees and colleagues who are parents.
It’s the small things that remind us of who we are and who we must be.
It’s what people did in Baltimore when local libraries at the epicenter of protests and riots refused to close, instead providing a safe harbor and support for those who needed it.
It’s what Parisians did using the hashtag #PorteOuverte to open their homes to those seeking refuge and safety in the aftermath of last month’s shootings.
It’s a reminder that we can, even if just for a moment, pour our energy into what is simple and comforting and good.
And that is lending a helping hand and trying our best to love the fear right out of the children who will go to school tomorrow and the day after with a heightened awareness of just how unsafe the world can be.
If bomb threats and school closings are a sign of these scary times times, let’s not forget that these small acts of kindness and compassion are, too.