Valentine’s Day this year was just like every other year, except that we are planning to buy a home soon. Honey and I were doing nothing special. I’d written him a note with a paper rose affixed to a piece of tiramisu. Nothing special. I was returning home from a trip to the commissary and decided to check in on the stock market mania. I wanted to make sure to withdraw funds for our down payment after our share prices have fully recovered. Bloomberg’s SiriusXM program “The Last Hour” was interrupted by breaking news of Another. School. Shooting. Sigh.
Three weeks before, it was a fifteen-year-old boy in Kentucky who killed two classmates and injured seventeen others. The week after that a 12-year-old girl in L.A. accidentally shot two of her classmates with a semi-automatic weapon she assumed was a toy. I heard of these incidents in addition to another in Italy, Texas and a few more that barely received a blimp’s worth of attention on the radar. According to The Guardian and CNBC, the Florida shooting was the 8th school shooting in 2018 to result in injury or death. Unlike the others, this time I tuned in.
As I drove the last minutes of my journey home, I fought back tears of anger and anxiety that formed from the pit of my stomach. I prayed for a swift and non-fatal end to this story. Please let everyone be okay. God, please protect those babies and take them home to their parents. Please let those kids live to graduate. Please. Please. Please don’t let another mother have to shed tears over her dead child’s coffin.
As I put away groceries, I checked Twitter and FB news feeds for updates. The worst had occurred. At least one death was reported. Shortly thereafter videos and images of kids inside the school were shared through several feeds. Kids ducked underneath desks. Gunshots pierced the background of children’s screams and curses. An image of a pair of legs and sneakers unmoving on a blood-stained floor. Someone’s child. I cried.
I waited for my baby to walk through the door knowing that someone’s mother would never see her child home from school again. I watched frantic parents gather around desperate to reunite with their children knowing that some of them would never experience the relief of that embrace. I shared the tears of those parents who could barely breathe as they prayed that the dead kids didn’t belong to them all the while knowing that they had to belong to someone. When my daughter walked through the door, I held her tightly and cried. I told her what had happened, and she cried too.
In the hours and days that followed, I couldn’t help but stay tuned in as the details unfolded.
“Why can one officer take down a White kid who just shot up a school, but unarmed Black kids are murdered for walking through the wrong neighborhood?”
Are you serious?
“He was a liberal democrat with a Hispanic last name, so sorry to spoil your ‘White boy domestic terrorist’ narrative snowflake”.
What the hell?
“The cops should have just killed him and saved our tax dollars”.
Are you people insane?
“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people”.
Stop. Just stop.
While we are so consumed with pointing the blame at “the other side”, seventeen families prepare to lay to rest people they loved. The families of fifteen others are taking turns sitting beside hospital beds praying that their loved ones recover. Fathers and husbands. Sisters and brothers. Teachers and students were killed on a Wednesday afternoon by a young man who was hurting so badly that the only way he could express his pain was to be the cause of another’s.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we don’t have a problem with institutionalize racism that pronounces Black and brown people as inherently more dangerous than their White peers. I am not saying that NRA campaigns to relax laws that regulate gun ownership are blameless. I am not advocating taking away guns from law-abiding citizens, nor am I excusing the actions of this obviously disturbed young man. My point is that now is not the time to point the finger of blame at any one person, group or politician. Now is the time for every American to accept the responsibility of his or her role in the Valentine’s Day tragedy in Parkland, Florida.
If you voted for a politician based on his/her stance on a single issue and failed to consider how his/her overall politics would impact our nation, you are responsible. If you failed to vote at all, you are responsible. If you turned a blind eye to an elderly neighbor who has outlived all the people he loves, you are responsible. If you sanctimoniously criticize the impoverished and downtrodden, you are responsible. If you turned a deaf ear to those crying out for your help, you are responsible. If you have in any way spread a message of hate and division instead of love and connection, you are responsible. If you failed to understand your importance in sculpting the American culture, you are responsible for the mess that is our society. We (yes, I fully own my responsibility) must take ownership of our creation and, more importantly, work together to make it better.
How do we make it better? Where do we begin? To answer this question, I look back to a day I recently spent with my brother. It struck me how easily and effortlessly he spoke to people. “ Hey man, you good?” he’d ask a stranger in passing. “What’s going on?” he asked looking unflinchingly into the eyes of an obviously homeless man. He did this so naturally that he probably was unaware of how amazed I was watching him. My brother also told me about a young kid he mentored in Kentucky who had been written off. He and his younger sister had an absent mother, another victim of the opioid epidemic. This kid had stopped attending classes, and social services could not locate him. My brother ran into him at a gas station and called out to him. He didn’t spend hours lecturing the kid or telling him to go back to school. He simply asked about the young man and his family. He asked him if he needed anything. My brother told the kid to call when he was ready and stay out of trouble. He took five minutes out of his time to let another human being know that someone cares.
My brother is no saint. He doesn’t possess any special qualities that make him more honorable than anyone else. His life struggles have lead him to the same conclusion I have drawn from all of my observations and studies of human behavior. At the core of every human is the desire to be seen. We each want to be understood, if only by one other soul sharing this earthly experience. We each want to know that our lives matter, that we are loved and appreciated.
I almost didn’t write this post, because I didn’t want anyone to discard my words in the pile of “another liberal calling to ban guns”. Each of my three siblings own guns. Each of my siblings have served in the military. I would not ask them to relinquish their rights to own guns, because I have not seen what they have seen. If they need to own a weapon to feel protected and safe, I stand with them. I disagree with them and will never allow guns in my home, but I will fight for their rights to own guns.
I almost didn’t write this post, because I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon of people calling for solutions days after A.S.S. only to fall silent until the next tragic event. I didn’t want to try to make sense of this horror by playing the blame game while dodging any ownership and responsibility. The truth is that we all failed those kids. We all contribute to the collective society that has desensitized us to an expanding culture of violence. We all have to take part in evolving from a nation of fear to a country of promise by declaring that this is not a bandwagon. It is a shift. We are at the helm of a movement.
I almost didn’t write this post, because I feel like I am always preaching at other people about how they should or should not behave, even though that is not my intention. When I make these observations and share these stories, it is a result of self-reflection. When I find areas in my experience that I can improve, I want to share my revelations with others. I may or may not ever change anyone’s mind, but I have to share my knowledge. That is why I am here. I have been afforded the luxury of living a life of contemplation not for myself alone. My life, like everyone else’s, is intricately woven into the fabric of existence. Who am I to not share my revelations with the world? I am not young, foolish, or arrogant enough to believe that I can exist in isolation. Every thought, idea, revelation, and observation I have belongs to every being that has existed or will exist in this shared creation of ours. Every breath I take is a testament to a power that is far greater than and unites us all. I had better be sure that I am playing my role to the best of my abilities.
I almost didn’t write this post, until I realized that it isn’t about me. This is for my brother who connects with young castaways to be an example of redemption and perseverance. This is for my sisters who voluntarily joined a man’s military in order to provide a better life for their children than they had. This is for the neighbor who sits crying in the rain missing the life he left in California when his parents divorced. This is for my daughter’s classmate who is teased by the boys because he feels more in his skin with his female friends. This is for my friends struggling to understand the multicultural perspectives of our diverse neighbors. This is for Honey who fathered our three children, even though only one shares his genes. This is for everyone who helped me figure out how to love myself and others unconditionally. This is for all of those who came before me who were so busy taking actions to survive that they couldn’t stop long enough to contemplate those actions. This post is for my children, all of our children, who will inherit this world and build it into the future.
While I may not have the natural ease in a crowd of strangers that I envy in others, I possess the gift of written expression. I know that my thoughts, words and actions directly influence the improvement or deterioration of our planet. It is my honor, privilege and duty to use my life to remind everyone that they also contribute their energy to the collective whole. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we each help sculpt our world. We don’t have a choice in this. Our very existence dictates that we have an impact. We do, however, get to decide HOW we impact the world.
This is where we start. We take responsibility for the fact that we each have played a part in everything we praise or condemn. The smile withheld is the one that could have brightened someone’s day and caused a chain reaction of positivity. The kind word spoken to a person struggling to find the desire to live, may be the word that saves a life. I am writing this post to remind you that you have the power to be an example of the love and peace we want our children to live. The way you choose to live your life matters. You are important, because this world is not this world without you in it. You do not have to cause mass destruction to be seen and understood. I see you. I love you.