Caring Hands
Caring Hands

By Molly Butler

Years ago, I worked for the Reading Corps, tutoring elementary school kids.

I’d sit one-on-one with them at a little desk at the end of the hall. One day, I was sitting with a kindergartener, a 5-year-old girl. We were reading a story about butterflies. She was one of my best students, almost ready to graduate from tutoring. She had one little finger on the page, following along as she sounded out the words.

Unknown to me, this school practiced unannounced active shooter drills. There was a crash. A staff member, playing the “shooter,” barged into the building.

“Man, I’m tired of this!” he screamed.

I recognized him from meetings but had no idea what was going on. I took hold of the girl’s hand as the office announced a lockdown. Along the hallway, doors started to slam shut. The staff member barreled down the hallway away from us, kicking and pounding on the doors, rattling handles, making sure they were locked, yelling and screaming. My student was clinging to my arm. There was no one else in the hall. I stood up, getting ready to pick her up, eyeing all the locked doors, not knowing where we would go and what we were supposed to do.

“Hey,” the kindergarten teacher, whose room was nearest my desk, cracked her door open, smiling uncomfortably. “I think you’re supposed to hide in here,” she whispered.

“Come on, it’s okay,” I told the little girl, trying to smile, trying to pretend everything was fine, that this was normal. In my chest, my heart was pounding.

“I’m sick of this! Ahhh!” the staff member screamed, now heading this way. He caught my eye and shook his head before turning and rattling another door handle. The kindergarten teacher ushered us in and locked the door.

“I suppose I shouldn’t have let you in,” she laughed nervously.

I didn’t know what to say. I mean, it’s common knowledge in this nation at this point. Don’t open the door for stragglers; it’ll just get more killed. That’s where we’re at now. I took the little girl and led her to cover under one of the empty desks, mindful, as I had been during my high school days, to pick a seat as hidden as possible from the windows. You know, in case there are two shooters, one sniping from outside. These are the things you think about when you attend school in America. We sat down on the floor amongst her friends. She climbed into my lap, shaking, searching my face.

“Mr. ____ looked really scary,” she whispered to me.

I nodded. “Yes, he did. But he was just pretending. It’s to make sure we are safe.”

I didn’t believe that. Not for a second. Because I didn’t feel safe. I now knew that in an active shooter situation, whichever unlucky kid happened to be learning in the hall with me would definitely be dead. We were sitting ducks. I also knew that no matter how much I wanted to, there was nothing I could do to make sure this child was safe in school. She was just getting started. She had over a decade more of classrooms and shooter drills and, fingers crossed, no real bullets to dodge. Just the knowledge, the everyday realization and fear that it could happen. A steady dread and anxiety that exists in the hearts of anyone who has to spend their days in a crowded public space. A fear you quickly grow numb to.

We have failed so incredibly.

I know because I remember my drills. Granted, they weren’t as terrifying as this. No one is screaming and pounding on the doors. But I remember cowering under desks, passing notes and pulling our knees into our chests, our routine, our education, interrupted by the ever-present threat of violence. The teacher shushing us, closing the blinds. Inevitably, someone would whisper in the dark, “Wait, this one isn’t real, right?” and the air would get heavy. You’d think about your mother, your father, your dog, your family. Kids would pull out their phones, trying to be casual about it, checking to see if there was anything in the news. Finally, the teacher would break the tension. “It’s just a drill, guys, but be quiet so we pass.” And then, you just go about your day. You live in that mindset, that fear, and it becomes normal. It shouldn’t be, but it is. We have failed so incredibly.

The staff member reached our door and rattled the handle before quickly moving on. Relieved, the girl climbed out of my lap to be with her friends. Crouching in the dark, the children distracted one another. I’m sure that later, reviewing the drill, the staff member would report how many people he’d managed to get access to. We would have been at least two dead for sure. But, just two, so. Not bad. Not for America.

“Land of the free.” Do you feel free? Really? I don’t. Free to what? Certainly not free to live. Free to flee and cower and hide and mourn senseless murders, teaching little children how best to use a textbook for self-defense. It’s insane. Don’t you dare pretend it’s not. Every time I sit in a movie theater, I think of the shooting in Aurora; 12 dead, including a little girl my niece’s age. I scan the exists and watch for bulky backpacks and loners. 10 people were murdered last week while buying groceries. I can’t even sit in a church pew without wondering. Firearms have been the number one cause of death for children and teens since 2020. America, how could you let this happen? Keep letting it happen? Again? Again? It’s not shocking. It’s just another day in a nation that has made the wrong choice: the illusion that deadly power is equivalent to freedom and that the illusion is somehow more important than innocent children. We call ourselves the greatest country on earth, but we’re the only country where this happens, again and again and again. These children are asking you, why? What could possibly be worth this? America, how dare you?

The flags were still flying at half-mast from the last mass shooting when this one happened. Save yourself some time, America. Don’t bother raising them again because this won’t change. Not until we do.


Regain some sanity. Join Sabrina at Safe Relations for a strength-based flow by the river at noon. Bring water; mats are provided. This class offers a sliding-suggested, pay what you can $10-$20 scale. Register here. The Mankato Makerspace will offer two Glass Torchwork classes from 3-6 p.m. and 6-9 p.m.

It’s your last weekend to catch Semaj Roytal Tarot: Photography by James Taylor at the 410 Project in Mankato, open 2-6 p.m. Friday. Vibrant Family Chiropractic invites you to celebrate their 3rd anniversary in Waseca with a Party in the Park! Enjoy food from Mis Tres Flores, live music from Whiskey Whiskers and FREE activities! Stop by from 5-7 p.m.

The What’s Up Lounge and YuWish Productions present LovePhunk 2, a night for everything funky. $10 cover, doors open at 7 p.m., tickets available here. Rock of Ages will be at the Landing on Madison from 7-10 p.m. The Minnesota State Department of Theatre and Dance will perform Barefoot in the Park on May 25-28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Andreas Theatre. Tickets are $17 and $15 for seniors and children under 16.


Nicollet Bike & Ski is offering another Saturday Gravel Ride, taking off from their shop at 7 a.m. and covering 25 to 40 miles. Gravel or Cyclocross bikes are recommended.

The Mankato Farmers’ Market will be open at 8 a.m. at the Best Buy parking lot. Check their Facebook page for updates! The River Valley Makers Market will be open at the HUB food park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. BENCHS will host a Plant and Pet Stuff Sale this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bring any plants you plan to remove to BENCHS for this fundraiser. Bring along your pet for a $30 microchipping clinic! Learn more on their website.

Head to the Ney Nature Center from 9-11 a.m. for Dragonflies and Butterflies! This program consists of two parts: learning about the different species and heading out into the park to find these insects. All ages are welcome; register here. Then, head to Madison Lake for the MN Fishing Event for Life 2022. Proceeds benefit MN Adult & Teen Challenge and Young Life. Register here; all proceeds go to charity.

Kelly Coyle and Sarah Houle will perform folk music and old jazz tunes at 11 a.m. at Alpine Bistro. It’s Foodie Saturday with S&B BBQ at the Mankato Brewery from 3-7 p.m.


Minneopa Area Naturalist Scott Kudelka will host a leisurely paddle around the local treasure, Swan Lake. Pack water and a snack for this hour-long paddle. Head to the Landing on Madison for music by Gold Star from 4-7 p.m.


Weekend High Notes is a regular feature by Molly Butler. Molly covers weekend events, live music, and culture in the Greater Mankato Area. Suggestions are welcome using the MankatoLIFE contact form.