After Parkland: Can Tragedy Unite Rather Than Divide?

I live in Florida, a few hours north of Parkland, where 17 people were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentines Day. I am sure many of you felt the same as I did when you heard the news…

I can’t believe this is happening again. And yet, I can.

It took me a couple of days to even begin processing another shooting. I felt stunned. Paralyzed. Helpless.

The media started pumping out stories of the tragedy, and then the debates on social media began, much like they have after every recent shooting. Some argued it was too soon to politicize the incident. Others contended it was another 17 lives too late to talk about it. And everyone seemed to take a side when it came to solutions.

People’s opinions are relatively absolute on the matter, and I watched people fight, sometimes cruelly.

One day last week, I read through a passionate but respectful debate on a friend’s Facebook page. I noticed that one of the men engaging was from the Parkland area. In his profile picture he was wearing a “Love Across Enemy Lines” shirt. So I reached out, letting him know I worked for Preemptive Love Coalition, that I was really sorry about what his community was going through, and that I was sending prayers and light.

His response ever-so-lovingly and graciously challenged me. And honestly, it changed me…

“It’s rough out here for sure. I’m just praying footsteps will follow the faith in all the prayers going up tonight.”

Other than voting on certain topics when elections roll around and having a few conversations with my kids about violence and being kind to one another, I didn’t really have any footsteps to follow my faith. Mostly just opinions. And I realized that in my complacency, I was part of the problem.

Thoughts and prayers are wonderful things and I believe in their importance, but this is a time that also calls for action.

I immediately began looking for ways to get involved locally, because one of the things I have learned during my time with Preemptive Love is that the frontlines are indeed where we live. To start, I signed up for a local advocacy group’s monthly meeting and found a community vigil and rally to attend a few days later.

The vigil, which happened last weekend, drew a large crowd. It’s obvious America is mourning.  

People carried signs—some calling out politicians, others honoring victims, but one in particular left me in a flood of tears.

A mother, who was walking around hand-in-hand with her little boy, held a sign that simply said, “I just want to keep my son safe.” Her face, when she looked at her son as they walked past us, was filled with all the love a mother’s heart can hold for her children.

I am a mother of three boys, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them this week. I can’t wrap my brain around what I’d do if anything like this ever happened to one of them. I don’t think I’d survive. Yet, 17 families in Parkland are trying to figure how to do just that. Survive such unspeakable loss.

In that mother’s face, I saw the one thing that unites us in such a polarizing topic of debate: we all just want to protect our children. We want to protect America’s children.

After speeches from a few locally-elected officials and community service members, a Muslim woman, a Jewish rabbi, and a Christian minister got up to read the names of each of the victims, while the rest of us stood with lit candles and teary eyes.

Before they began, they each prayed beautiful, unifying prayers. The Muslim woman acknowledged that as devout as she is in her faith, she knows now is the time for more than thoughts and prayers—now is the time for action. The Christian minister talked about how names have power and how he prayed that these names in particular would be seeds that root deep into the ground and grow to unite the various faith communities in our city and state under their branches.

I haven’t been able to shake their words. She’s right. He’s right. We can’t let these senseless tragedies divide us. We can’t.

We all just want to keep our children safe, and we MUST come together to do so. We MUST stop arguing and start acting.

If you believe our country fails the mentally ill miserably, get to work trying to fix that. If you believe semi-automatic guns have no place in domestic society, do what you can to change that. If you believe our culture glorifies violence, take action to resolve that. If you believe we need to be kinder to the outcast and stop cyber-bullying, begin working in ways that will address that.

Wherever you see a need and feel drawn to act, do so. We cannot allow this to keep happening. We have to do the hard work to fix it. We have to allow our footsteps to follow our faith.

But, what if we also used this senseless act of violence as an opportunity to practice loving each other, despite our differences? What if we stepped out of our comfort zones long enough to begin rewriting the script? What if, while we are busy bringing about our own solutions, we called a friend on the other side of the debate to ask how we could also support them in their solutions? Because if  we want the messy and radical concept of loving anyway to work in Iraq, Syria, or North Korea don’t we need to practice making it work where we live?

Let’s allow these names, added to the ever-growing list of victims lost to violence, to unite us in action—but also in love.