I have to tell you, I have been incredibly touched by the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. I have been saddened and horrified by mass shootings before, at schools, at movie theaters, concerts, nightclubs and churches, but there was something about this one that was an arrow straight into my heart and soul.
The first thing that filled me as a parent was the need to love our children. I heard someone on a radio news program around this time, who was talking about loving not only her children, but all the friends her children brought home. Nobody ever left her house without being told on the way out that they were loved. “Be wise, make good decisions, remember I love you.” That’s the answer, I thought. That is the key.
When I first looked at the composite drawing of the man who had kidnapped my daughter, Michaela, right on the heels of a sweeping horror came the thought, “This man was not loved and nurtured as a child, or he would not have grown up to become a man who could do this kind of thing to my daughter.” So I’m not being a cheap commentator here. My own child is a victim.
I honestly believe that the failure of love is somehow or another the cause of most of our problems in this world. In the case of this composite, what I was feeling was a lack in the love of the parents, and that is where it has to start. We have got to love our children. That is both the easiest thing in the world to do, and the hardest. There is something in us that is preprogrammed to respond to our children with love, to adore the living daylights out of them. It can get short circuited though. This can happen when we believe things we are told, like that you will spoil a child by showing too much love. It can happen because of our own weariness. It can happen because we ourselves were not properly loved. It can happen just because the love we feel for our children is so terrifying. If we give ourselves fully to the depth of it, what would happen to us if we lost them. Or when, rather, because even if nothing bad ever happens to them, they do always grow up and leave us. And we may without even knowing it create a shell around our very vulnerable feelings, which hardens us a little and prevents us from fully indulging our love. (Just so you know, I think kids do this too, particularly around puberty, to make their own process of separation from their first loves easier. But that is another blog altogether!)
And we have to teach them to love others. We have to do this through our words, and also our deeds. When we make fun of someone, even a complete stranger on the street or on television, we are teaching our children to be uncaring, to be bullies if even in the smallest of ways. When we express anger or judgment of others, we allow our children to be angry and judgmental people. Sometimes there is an awful lot of work we need to do on ourselves, but it is worth it! Our world needs it! (Not suggesting that I have done all this work myself. A lot of what should be done in parenting I have learned through observing my own shortcomings!)
I can’t help but think of the young man responsible for the recent bombings in Austin, Texas. By all accounts, you could never say Mark Anthony Conditt’s parents were inattentive. He was home schooled right through graduation, and you just don’t get more attentive than that. And you know, I can’t say what went wrong, what switched a flip in his head that turned him into someone who engulfed an entire city in terror, and caused him to take the lives of some really fine and innocent human beings. But allow my imagination to wander a little bit here, and understand it is simply my imagination. He was raised in a conservative Christian family, home schooled as I said, and involved in a Christian survivalist group, which had a heavy emphasis on Bible study, along with weapons training. Now I know Christianity is supposed to focus on love, but first, I have read that Bible, and I know that a whole lot of it is focused on holy retribution against a sinful society, so what you get from it will depend on what is put before you. One source mentioned that Conditt was generally a quiet person, except when it came to discussing certain conservative political agendas, in which case he would become quite animated. Maybe Conditt just literally had some crossed wires in his brain, but might it be possible that a short circuit was created in the love department by the “except for” clauses: except for gays, except for those who are pro choice, etc. Just a thought. We don’t know why Conditt did what he did because he didn’t tell us, and he didn’t leave any specific clues. But I just want to say that because you spend a lot of time with your children does not mean you are teaching them to be loving, compassionate human beings.
Not long after the shootings at Stoneman Douglas, a reactionary blitz swept through social media, saying people’s focus on love as the answer was blaming the victims, and how on earth could they be expected to befriend the weird, somewhat dangerous student sitting alone at lunch? And I get that. By that time it was probably too late to turn the tides for him. But still, you can curl your lip at that strange, lonely person, you can laugh at them, or ignore them. Or you can simply smile at them. Say hello. Show a kindness. Honestly in order to turn the tides, this has to start at a much younger age. Do you know how mean elementary school children can be?
Many years after Michaela was kidnapped, I started hearing from those who had gone to school with her, as they found me on social media. I heard from several of those now-adults, “Michaela was always nice to me, even when the other kids weren’t.” There is nothing anybody could ever say to me that would have made me more proud of my daughter. She was only in fourth grade when she was kidnapped, so these were young children. But they remembered it.
It just never hurts to be kind. And it just possibly could save your life, or your child’s life. A mass shooter is less likely to take aim at someone who stands out as having been kind when the rest of the world was not. They are more likely to shoot with glee at those who have been deliberately unkind.
MARCH FOR OUR LIVES
The aftermath of the shooting has also deeply impacted me. The first thing has been the absolute eloquence of those who have taken up the fight for the safety of their fellow students in schools. And movie theaters, concerts, malls, churches, night clubs. I have watched them for weeks now, but yesterday I sat transfixed as they took the microphone before a live audience of 800,000, and an international television audience of inestimable numbers. One after another they came, all under the age of 21. The youngest of the speech makers was Naomi Wadler, age 11, still an elementary school student, who delivered a beautiful, powerful speech to remind us of the young African American women who have lost their lives to gun violence, but who have not appeared on the front pages of the newspapers. Yolanda Rene King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King, joined as a guest of another young speechmaker, absolutely enchanting and impressive as she spoke impromptu, with no written speech. She joined Jaclyn Corin, a Stoneman Douglas junior. Jaclyn had taken the stage, looking so innocent and innocuous with the straight blonde hair framing her baby face, and a voice that was not innately loud or powerful. (I can say this you know, because I am blonde and quiet myself.) But the passion poured into her speaking left the audience transfixed. Emma Gonzalez has emerged as probably the best known, and most recognizable leader, with her passionate, often tear filled, demands that steps be taken to assure that this will happen never again.
Then there is Sam Fuentes, the face of a survivor of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas. She didn’t just face the fear of death. She faced the bullets. She still has shrapnel lodged in her face. She was so emotional she actually turned from the camera and vomited during her speech, then turned back and said, “I just threw up on international television, and it feels great!” That is the voice of a survivor. That is the attitude of a survivor.
These are tomorrow’s leaders. There were many of them, and if you haven’t seen them, you should. If there is a place where you can actually watch full coverage of these speeches, I encourage you to, because the sound bites you see on the news do not do them the justice that their fully thought out and delivered speeches do. My daughter and I had a lot of things we had to do yesterday, but neither of us could tear ourselves away from the TV screen. The crowds were impressive, but these young people were what kept us glued to our seats. In the sadness, they brought hope, because they are a vision of the future. You will see many of them in the future, I am sure of it, as they take their places among the leaders in our world. They will begin here, but they will not end here.
Towards the end of the program, Jennifer Hudson performed, singing The Times They Are a-Changing. This was our song, the song of the baby boomer generation, as penned by Bob Dylan. One thing we have wondered, watching Gen-X take up their leadership positions, is will it last? Will anything really change? Boomers are not generally given credit by the young, but we were a generation of activists. We marched for civil rights and women’s rights. We demonstrated against the war in Vietnam and the draft. I pointed that out to my daughter, and she said, “And did it change anything?” It was heartening to look back on that and realize that yes! We did change the world! All that marching and demonstrating revolutionized the way we live. The war was ended, and so was the draft. The place of women in the world is far different than what it once was! The strongest voices emerging even after Parkland have been the young women. They can do this, and they can now literally take over the leadership because of our marching and demonstrating. There is so far still to go. The leadership of this country needs to swing a little further in order to place women in their true leadership positions. Black lives need to really, truly matter. But Gen-X is here now, and they appear to be prepared to get out there and do it.
Regarding the issue at hand, gun control, I am British by birth and culture, and so I would be more than happy living in a gun-free environment. My dad was a career military man and a gun enthusiast. My ex husband, my oldest son, and my son-in-law are all gun enthusiasts. I have been shooting myself a time or two, and yes it was fun. But it wasn’t so much fun that I ever felt the need to pursue it on my own. I would be delighted to live in a gentler world, where people didn’t feel the need to possess this kind of power, for power it is. The 2nd Amendment was put in place so we would be able to defend ourselves against those who wanted to rule us without our consent. We are beyond that now, folks! Let’s just take our little guns and put them up against chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, or a well placed electro magnetic pulse, not to mention the havoc that can be created by hackers, including such things as shutting down our power or disrupting our business and banking. As for self protection, if there were fewer guns and we lived in a society that did not value such things so highly, we might need less self protection.
However, what I and most people are asking for is not to have guns banned, but sensible gun control. I would like to see a system more like Japan’s, where getting a gun license involves taking classes and passing tests, including mental and psychological, as well as a thorough background check. I don’t know the details of that check in Japan, but I had a government security clearance at one time, and the background check for that involved having conversations with people who knew me, including neighbors. If something like that had been the law, Nikolas Cruz would never have been able to purchase a gun.
Our society is rife with guns. At this point we will be locking the barn door after the horse has bolted no matter what we do. Change of any sort will take time. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted. It would not have taken much in order to have prevented the killings at Stoneman Douglas. If Nikolas Cruz hadn’t been able to walk into a store and walk out with a gun, whether because he was 18 or because he had a history of troubling behavior, those 17 human beings would still be here. That is a fact that simply cannot be disputed.
While this generation finds its voice and impresses the world with their power, we cannot for a moment forget those whose voice is heard no more. Having lost a child, I was painfully mindful of the families of those students. On the one hand, I am sure that they grieved because their own children’s powerful voices were not being heard. Many of those who spoke remembered to say the names of those who were killed, giving power to their silent voices in the only way they could.
But while the families were grieving that their own children’s voices were not being heard, in my heart I feel they were encouraged by the huge amount of love poured out for their children in the crowds that showed up. 800,000 in Washington, D.C., 175,000 in New York City, 20,000 in the little town of Parkland itself, not to mention Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, even small towns like my home town of San Leandro had their very own marches, across this country and across the world. Every marcher, every sign, was a love letter to those who died, and to their families. Their children and loved ones did not die for nothing. Their deaths are not meaningless. They are changing the world, even though they are no longer here to see it. I know this lifts the spirits of the families, while at the same time stabbing them in their hearts. I know this feeling.
So let’s take a moment, and remember those who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Let’s keep in our hearts all those who have died as a result of gun violence, the young, the old, the famous and those whose names and faces have never made the news. Whether we know their names or not, let’s keep them in our hearts. Those who died at Stoneman Douglas were the starting point for this march, but they were not the only ones who caused the crowds to swell. There were families of shooting victims from all over who showed up, hoping that no other family would have to endure what they endured. They showed up so that their family member’s death would not be for nothing. We cannot say all the names of all who have died. Some we have never heard ourselves. But the names of the seventeen who died at Stoneman Douglas are fresh in our minds. So let’s say them.
Nicholas Dworet, 17, senior at MSD, swimmer who aspired to the 2020 Olympics.
Aaron Feis, 37, beloved assistant football coach and security guard, gave his life shielding students from the bullets with his own body. A hero.
Jaime Guttenberg, 14, freshman at MSD.
Alyssa Aldaheff, 14, soccer player. Her father wrote to her friends in the soccer club, “Live for Alyssa. Be her voice. Breathe for her.” The wish of all who have lost a child, that they would live on in this world through those who love them.
Scott Beigel, 35, geography teacher. He died to save students, having unlocked the door of his classroom to provide refuge for them. A hero.
Meadow Pollack, 18, senior at MSD.
Christopher Hixon, 49, athletic director at MSD.
Luke Hoyer, 15, freshman at MSD. Described as “happy go lucky,” and a “mama’s boy.”
Carmen Schentrup, 16, student at MSD, described by her cousin on Facebook as “the most intelligible 16-year old I’ve ever met.” A voice silenced.
Gina Montalto, 14, member of the marching band at MSD.
Alex Schachter, 14, member of the marching band at MSD.
Peter Wang, 15, member of Junior ROTC at MSD, is said to have held door open so other students could escape.
Alaina Petty, 14, also a member of Junior ROTC, assisted in cleaning up Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma.
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14, freshman at MSD.
Helena Ramsey, 17, senior at MSD. I saw her best friend interviewed on television, talking about how she arrived at school each morning and looked for her, picked up her phone to call and say, “where are you?” before remembering that she was no longer here.
Joaquin Oliver, 17, born in Venezuela, Joaquin had just received his U.S. citizenship.
Cara Loughran, 14, freshman at MSD. Her family said on Facebook to not just remember Cara, but to do something, because no family should have to go through what they were.
Each name in this list represents someone’s heart. They were all someone’s child, someone’s friend, perhaps someone’s brother or sister, someone’s husband or father. Each name represents countless tears. Let us remember them. Let us honor them.