I don’t personally know anyone whose life was touched by the loss of a child, parent, friend, or coworker at Columbine, Sandy Hook or Las Vegas. Or anyone whose sense of safety in those communities was forevermore called into question after a mass murder. The shooting February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland hit much closer to home.
That particular high school is in the Broward County school district where my own children were educated. Just 15 minutes north of our town, the campus — where 14 students and 3 of their teachers were gunned down — is a landmark on the Sawgrass Expressway, a major highway my family travels frequently in our day-to-day lives. This time I am only a few degrees separated from three of those whose lives were so violently and senselessly ended in the carnage: the longtime neighbor of our son’s college roommate, and a child of each of two of my husband’s former coworkers.
In the days following what has become an all too familiar tragedy in our country, I find myself struggling with mixed emotions and hard questions.
I am heartbroken, weeping each morning as I read the latest news story chronicling a life lost, a parent’s anguish, acts of heroism in a victim’s final moments.
I also feel anger at how the system failed to keep our children safe. And how that same system failed the shooter, and by extension, our communities. By all accounts, the troubled 19-year-old killer exhibited a pattern since childhood of escalating disturbing and dangerous behaviors. Somehow he slipped through the cracks, never receiving the type of mental healthcare that might have prevented his heinous crime.
I feel outrage toward the politicians who continue to quash meaningful changes in gun laws or mental health reform. And toward the Broward Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer first on the scene, who stood outside listening to the shooting in progress and chose not to enter the building to stop the killer.
When feeling gives way to contemplation, I am left with an endless stream of What If’s.
What if I had been there: Would I have held open a door so my classmates could escape, or so my students could flee to safety?
What if I were among the group of students who scaled a perimeter fence to escape: Would I have stayed behind to help the kid who got caught in the fence, or would I have kept running — without looking back — to save my own life? Would I even have hesitated before I made my choice?
What if my child had witnessed the murders: Would I know how to help them cope with the trauma and the fear?
What if I were one of those students whose life was spared: Would I have taken a video or Snapchat of the bloodshed as I hustled out of the building? Or would I use my voice to effect change?
And finally, the unthinkable: What If I had lost my own child, or husband: Would I have the strength to move through my grief with grace? Could I ever forgive?
I would like to think that my first instinct would be to protect others, even if it meant sacrificing my own life. That I would take a political stand if I were one of the fortunate who survived. Or at the very least, that I could live with myself if I hadn’t made any of those admirable choices. But I have no answers because, thankfully, these questions are rhetorical. For now, and hopefully, forever.
What I have done so far is read the articles and watch the news. I share my opinions and my outrage with family and friends as I go about my day. I have donated to GoFundMe campaigns (one for the victims; one to send 50 students to Washington for their March for Our Lives . I contacted my US
representative and my senators. And I will vote for whatever measures make it to the ballot, and for the candidates who are passionate about these issues.
Undaunted by the fact that many of them aren’t yet old enough to vote, these students are taking a passionate stand. The remarkable teens have answered a call to lead that many adults had assumed Millennials are still too young to hear. Which brings me back to my question: What should my role be?
To be quite honest, I will not be mobilizing. I will not be marching. So I choose to follow. For now, but hopefully not forever.
We can’t all be leaders for every cause. A leader without followers accomplishes nothing. Nor should we be followers at every turn. Followers without leaders are bound to wander aimlessly. In this case, thankfully, others point the way.
The thing is, there are countless social causes. Save the Children. Save the Whales. Save the Rainforest. Puerto Rico Strong. MeToo. Wounded Warriors. And so on. No one can go all-in on every one. Or even on more than one. So we offer “thoughts & prayers” and maybe a few dollars for causes that resonate personally. And then we forget about it.
The kids of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have found their “all-in”. Or maybe “it” found them during those 10 terrifying minutes on Valentine’s Day. So I ask myself one last question:
Where is my own “all-in” waiting for me to discover it? Maybe it’s with the teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter. What’s most important is that these awesome young activists have reminded me to open my ears and hear the call, from wherever it may come.
“One day/You finally knew/What you had to do/And began”— Mary Oliver, “The Journey”