Hamel: I lost my brave

Opinion Editor Peyton Hamel talks about how she lost her bravery and how that’s affected her while wishing she wrote about the shooting in Boulder, CO. The above photo depicts a columbine flower. 

Peyton Hamel

Everyone has a fire. That burning, aching fire that lights up your heart to make it beat and under your feet to make them run. That kind of fire. That purpose, that pushing, that bravery. I lost that fire, that burning, aching, addicting fire. I lost my brave a while ago, too. 

When I started writing my freshman year, I remember beginning with “The worst thing a freshman can do.” As I got more comfortable, I waded my way into some of my more favorite topics: “‘Joker’ honestly communicates mental health stigma,'” “Diet culture is harming our health more than helping” and even my darling Happy Journal series. I then bulled into the more radical pieces of my collection: “Is Arbery just another case?” and “Chicago shootings represent a new U.S. anthem.” 

I know exactly where my fire went. It was zapped after writing again and again about the toughest issues I’ve experienced in my whole two decades. Elections, murders, riots, disease, racism… what do you do with all of it? 

This is the first real time I’ve written since Oct. 5. For a journalist, that’s a good chunk of time. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve written a column and deleted it right before it was supposed to be edited. I had the worst excuses. 

“It doesn’t have enough words.”

“It doesn’t pull together well.”

“Something feels off.”

“I hate it.”

I lost my brave, and I’m clean out of excuses. You know who hasn’t lost their brave? 

My entire staff.

They are all so authentically themselves with every word, and I can’t celebrate them half as much as I want to. Olivia’s radical social justice. Parth’s well-versed randomness and appreciation for all life. Grant and his satire. Sam and his lovely cartoons. Zoami and her leadership. If I named everyone, you would get bored.

You need to have tough skin to write in opinion. My staff has tough skin. It’s one of the hardest desks to stay at, and not just for this reason. You aren’t assigned tasks, just due dates. You have to find everything on your own. The writer’s reputation is at stake and is bound by criticism from the left and right at any time. It is very rare for us to see the positive impact we’ve had on our viewers. The voices who criticize are the loudest. 

I used to have tough skin. But my tank became empty. I wanted so badly to write about Georgia. I wanted to write about Chauvin’s case. I wanted to write about the presidency. I especially wanted to write about the Boulder shooting. But I couldn’t. 

I couldn’t get my fingers to tap the stupid letters on the keyboard and finish a piece. I was angry, sad, frustrated. I should’ve written about Boulder. 

Boulder is a mortifying reminder of Columbine. I grew up five minutes away from Columbine for the majority of my childhood. You go right on Bowles Avenue and drive for a few minutes, then take another right once you pass the golf course. A few minutes later, you’re in their parking lot. 

There is not one year I can remember when we didn’t have a shooting drill. It was protocol that we would learn and know how to avoid an active shooter. Sneak toward a corner of the room where no one can see you. Push the table onto its side so you don’t get bullets shot into your ribs. Don’t let your breath be heard. Or else.

We would wait for about an hour through the drill, and police officers would bang on the door, acting as the shooter. These were the drills we got. No tornado or earthquake drills. Only fire and a threat inside or outside the building. 

It’s traumatizing. During my senior year, there were three active shootings in my neighborhood. Three. It’s not only traumatizing, but exhausting. 

I have teachers who were in Columbine during the shooting. I remember seeing them shaking and on the verge of tears during the three real lockdowns. I can feel my face burning when I hear “Pumped up Kicks” on the radio. The song is disgusting and I will never respect Foster the People for publishing it. Columbine should never be romanticized. People have suffered for over 20 years and counting. 

Elementary school children participate in these shooting drills. We learned to grow up in fear. I fear the outside more than I would like to admit. I’m tired of not being brave. I should’ve written about Atlanta and Boulder. But I didn’t. I need to be brave, not only for myself, but for the community around me.