updated March 14, 2018
When I originally sat down to write this, I thought I was going to write about what Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School means to me, but I can’t get through that without tears … because without Douglas High School, I wouldn’t have any of the most important people in my life —my friends, my husband, or my children. I wouldn’t have learned the true joy of being a coach, a mentor, and a teacher. MSD was the first place where I felt I belonged. I would be someone completely different if not for my 11 and a half years at Douglas, and I happen to really like the person I have become.
I spent more than a quarter of my life at Stoneman Douglas, and the last of those years were in room 1231. It’s been nearly six years since I could claim to be an Eagle. However, as my colleagues and my former students and cheerleaders have reminded me over these last 28 days, once an Eagle, always an Eagle. So, today I am an Eagle, with my heart pumping burgundy, black and silver.
There has been no moment more surreal than sitting next to a former student, MSD class of ‘04, at the BB&T Center for the Town Hall hearing everyone chant MSD. As the former cheerleading coach, I had only the fondest memories of hearing those three letters chanted en masse, but then, there we were, chanting for some other reason … How did this happen?
I was an English teacher at MSD, and I am a writer in my spare time. Basically, I love words, and I try to get other people to love them, too. Solidarity, for instance. What a wonderful word, what a beautiful concept for us today.
But what does it mean to stand in solidarity with MSD?
I hear that this issue is too political, too partisan, and too polarizing. This is curious of course. What, exactly, are the two sides of this issue?
On second thought, I’m not even going to entertain that question because there are not two sides of this issue. There’s just one side: keep children safe. At all costs, keep children safe.
There are these other words that I’ve noticed recently. They are malignant words and phrases that we have allowed into our discourse about education. Yet they have no business mixing in with students and their learning. They are phrases like: Code red. Lock down. Bad guys. Active shooters. Blood shed. And mass shootings. They are words like PTSD. Victims. And massacre. Are we in a war zone?
Children and guns should never occupy the same space and schools should be safe havens –each classroom should be a different sort of sanctuary, colored by the personalities of the educators and students within them. School may not always be fun, and it may often be difficult. There should be struggles and failures and successes and all the regular ups and downs of growing up. School should never be violent. Those struggles should not include burying peers and patching bullet holes.
Inaction and silence are no longer options. We must find a way to transcend the politics, partisanship, and polarization of America. We must find a way to stop turning everything into a contest between winners and losers –at least, no ESPECIALLY, when it comes to our children.
I’m going to forget those other words that speak to the divisions in our country. I’d simply rather be positive, passionate, and proud. I’d rather be an Eagle.
There is a saying that our children don’t inherit the world from their parents but that parents borrow the world from their children. I’m sorry to say –and this isn’t news to you– we’ve made a mess. We allowed the status quo to continue, and we didn’t hold our lawmakers accountable. We didn’t demand the answers that the students from Douglas have so masterfully done. We have failed, and we’ve done so with devastating consequences.
The tragedy at Stoneman Douglas is only one of many –how can this be true? Still, I ask myself, how can it be true that I am saying the words Stoneman Douglas in this context? It is a punch to the gut. Every. Single. Time.
Yet, I am one of the adults who made just a few phone calls and sent just a few emails after all the other mass shootings. It had to hit me this close for me take up the charge.
In my first draft of this, I shrunk away from the problem and slipped around it. I posted it, but it felt insufficient. So now, despite my own apprehension, I am going to say what I feel needs to be said.
We cannot delude ourselves into believing that the extremists who hold our legislators hostage have the Founding Fathers’ intentions at heart. Not a chance. The extremists’ attachment has nothing to do with amendments and constitutional rights because, before the Constitution told us to secure blessings and promote the general welfare, the Declaration of Independence told us that we have inalienable rights –life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
No. The extremists aren’t worshiping the second amendment as they proclaim. That’s just a cover. It’s camouflage to hide a darker and nefarious commitment to profits and bottom lines. It really is that simple when you boil away the proselytizing.
Apparently, they haven’t yet made enough money selling handguns and hunting rifles. Apparently, those profit margins aren’t high enough. Apparently, they haven’t made enough money equipping our police and military.
No. They need more, so they pretend to care about constitutional rights and terrify their followers into thinking that “someone” is going to take their guns. And they keep the fear going by saying that we’ll need those weapons to protect us from the possibility of tyranny.
What irony. That tyranny is here, but it’s the NRA who are the tyrants. These obvious extremists are the tyrants from whom we and our children need protection. The gun lobbyists meet every definition of tyrant. They extort our legislators with the threat of withholding funds.
What can be done to help our legislators break free from their dependence on these tyrants? Certainly, some of the legislators must be voted out of office if they refuse to recognize the toxicity of the tyrannical NRA. But there must be others who crave independence and who crave to crawl out from under the darkness of those extremists so that they can see lighter and brighter days. So, now, I’d like to imagine better: that we’ve already excised the NRA’s influence and outshined their power. After all, their time is up.
You, the students, our children, our future, the almost-adults and young adults, are stepping up in ways that the adults of my generation and my parents’ generation have failed to do. And, it’s not going to be easy.
Sensible gun control is possible. Safer schools are possible: they are an inalienable right. People may not always agree on the best ways to make schools safer; in fact, there are many things we can do in addition to sensible gun control. We can work to improve the quality of and access to mental health care. We can demand more funding for our public schools? After all, an investment in our public schools is an investment in our own future.
But there are so many of us who are ready to follow your lead, bolster your efforts, and support you as you take this on because YOU can make a difference. It’s not too late. You aren’t entrenched. You are beholden to no one, and the key is to make sure that you stay that way –independent from this gridlocked mess that answers to the bottom line instead of beating hearts of our youth.
We must listen to opposing points of view with the intention of finding the common ground, and there is common ground — there is a purple space where the red and the blue mix together. It’s a beautiful shade of purple. Find it. It exists where parents, like me, imagine the unfathomable. It exists where husbands and wives imagine loss. It exists when we force ourselves to confront the possibilities of inaction.
This means that you must not fall into the patterns of the past — our patterns. The winners and losers. The fear mongering and hate.
Use your education and truly show up to every conversation as an informed citizen with an open mind. Stay calm. It’s hard, and I’m asking you to do something I rarely have the strength to do myself.
And be prepared because you’ll make headway. Sometimes in small moments and sometimes in big ways. So, when you find someone who can agree with the basic premise that all children deserve to learn in a safe space that is free from violence, ask that person to do something to help make it happen. Be ready to tell them what they can do. Not everyone is ready to pick up a sign and become an activist, and that’s okay, but they might write an email. They might register to vote. They might sign a petition. They might donate to a good cause. Every contribution, regardless of size, matters.
And you all matter so much.
Be positive. Be passionate. Be proud.