Our common response
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
I, like TV host Jimmy Kimmel, am very tired of our current tragedies. The Columbine shootings took place when I was just beginning middle school and, for some ungodly reason, school shootings have continued into my adulthood with alarming frequency. Again, I'm tired of them. Worse, we've let such shootings become common, and as such, our response to them has become common — "thoughts and prayers."
After news broke this week that 17 people were killed by a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, my wife and I discussed the situation. It was difficult for me, after all the gun violence that's been perpetrated in my lifetime, to break beyond a general sense of sadness. It's difficult without knowing the victims. Their names. Their aspirations.
The names of the victims were published later that week by several news outlets. I felt a need to read the brief paragraphs describing each life that ended too soon. An image soon formed in my mind — 17 headstones, adorned with the touchstones of their lives, like icons of martyrdom in a classic Renaissance painting. I pencilled in the headstones and began to run out of room on my panel.
"There's too many to fit," I thought.
"You're right," a more sullen thought responded, "There's just plain too many."
My scroll wheel turned, as reverently as such a thing can. I carefully copied each victim's name on my notepad, sliding a hyphen behind each and noting some token of their personality relayed through the reports. Some were easy. Others, took some digging. I learned of scholarships that will go unfulfilled. I learned of service communities that must go on with one less volunteer. I learned of school staff who literally gave all they could for their students. In two cases, I learned nothing. But that just reminds us of the true impact these senseless killings really have — the opportunities they cut short. The rest of the world can only know the victims through what they leave behind and what their loved ones share.
There will be debates. There always are. The Second Amendment will be pushed to the forefront again. In a certain sense, this is our current reality. Our rights are real. The fatalities are real. Our grief, our pain and our anger are real. It's difficult to say each aspect of this reality is of equal value when we know the names of the victims, see their pictures and learn about their lives.
Personally, I've moved beyond that vague sadness I felt just days ago.
Perhaps it's because, when they become names and faces instead of simply 17 victims, there stirs in us a need to do something, to change, to go beyond our common response. And honestly, that's exactly what we should do.