I awoke on Feb. 14 much in the same way I do every morning—with a yawn, a stretch, and a sigh after another night of troubled sleep. And just like every morning, I reached for my phone on my nightstand to check my news app and Facebook.
The news held no surprises. Just the same articles with the same stories of political turmoil and the usual celebrity gossip. Nothing out of the ordinary, at least by today’s standards.
Facebook, on the other hand, was a welcome change from the new normal. As I checked my newsfeed, I smiled as I passed by the many Valentine’s Day greetings and sentiments of love—love for friends, significant others, neighbors, and everyone in general. Admittedly, I scrolled past most of them, stopping every so often to like a post by a particular friend or a funny meme.
It seemed like the holiday had brought out the best in everyone, and it filled me with a sense of hope amid the chaos that has seemed to rock our country—our world—to its core in the past year. Even if we couldn’t always agree where it came to politics and social issues, at least we could set aside our differences for a day to celebrate love.
That hope was diminished when I received a text from a good friend in Florida at 3:16 p.m.
“School shooting at Stoneman Douglas High.”
My heart seemed to stop. I wasn’t sure if her son attended Douglas—thankfully she responded quickly that he didn’t. However I did know that a number of my friends had children at the school, so I immediately went to Facebook to check in on everyone.
My newsfeed, which had just a few hours before been filled with love and light, was now inundated with news of the shooting, friends frantically posting requests for more information and prayers for their loved ones, and terror at not yet knowing if their children were safe.
Parkland is only twenty minutes from where I grew up. I attended a sister school in the same district, yet Douglas was a high school that I knew well and that held so many happy memories of choir competitions and Friday night football games. It seemed too surreal, and too close to home for me even 1000 miles away.
I had a hard time wrapping my head around it all. I still do. Even after learning that my friends’ children were safe, I still mourn for the 14 students and three teachers who lost their lives in such a senseless tragedy. I still ache with every news article that has been written in its wake.
I’m also angry. Angry that children who have suffered so much—who still manage to find the courage to speak out amid so much tragedy—are now subjected to rumors and ridicule. Some have even received death threats simply because they want to promote change in the way we as a nation deal with gun violence.
They never asked for this. They entered their school on Feb. 14 as “just kids,” yet they emerged into a world that has forced them to give up what is left of their adolescence to take on a fight that we adults should have already won for them.
As I continue to watch this unfold, questions of “why did this happen” and “how did this happen” have been replaced with “why haven’t we done anything to stop this from happening” and “how can our legislators continue allowing it to happen.” How can our American society—supposedly the “best” and “most advanced” in the world—continue to allow innocent lives to be lost in such a horrific way when it’s preventable?
Children should not fear going to school—a place I remember as a “safe place” in my youth.
While there are many political and ideological answers to this question—strengthening gun legislation, increasing access to mental health services, and arming more school resource officers and even teachers, just to cite a few—I feel that there is one significant answer that hardly anyone talks about.
It’s apropos that the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas occurred on a day meant to celebrate love in all its forms. It serves as a wakeup call that, as a nation divided, we have lost a sense of moral consciousness that leads us to “love thy neighbor” as we love ourselves. We’ve lost our ability to set aside our differences and unite under one common goal. Instead, we attack those that oppose our beliefs. We fight over what we want rather than yield to one another for what we need.
What we need now is compassion, empathy, and a “true north” to lead us out of the darkness.
What we need now is love—in all its forms.
Why can’t the citizens of this nation seem to grasp this?
Abraham Lincoln once said, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
This ideal cannot be found through political warfare, or spite, or the need to be right for the sake of pride. It can only be achieved when we put our differences aside and come to an agreeable consensus as to what truly matters to us.
As a nation, we should be better than this. We can be better than this, if only we work harder to find our better angels and allow them to take the lead. We owe it to our children just as much as, if not more than, we owe it to ourselves.