Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Parkland survivors offer hope that something might finally change

A lot can change in a week.

Seven days ago, 17 lives were needlessly lost in the horrific shooting in Parkland, Fla. My first awareness of it came via Twitter, before any details were available. Another school shooting. The all-too-familiar depression and hopelessness that washes over me during these incidents struck me harder and harder as information was reported. Many injured ... multiple fatalities ... more than 10 deaths ... then, finally, 17 dead. And eventually a grim sense of relief that the count had finally stopped going up.

Happy Valentine's Day.

I had taken the afternoon off to buy and prep a steak for our traditional Valentine's cookout. But by the time my wife got home from work I didn't feel much like celebrating anything. It felt wrong to be grilling--to be doing anything I enjoyed--with such a tragedy for all intents still unfolding, knowing so many families were being irrevocably torn apart. I felt more like crying than anything else. But I put my best face on, partially because I still don't want to talk about things like this in front of my son. He's 8. He shouldn't have to know these kinds of things happen.

He also shouldn't have to do lockdown drills in school. He does, of course. Four times a year we get an email from the school district informing us there was a mandated lockdown to "prepare students and staff to respond to the highest level of threat with the most urgent action and the least margin for error." Other than telling me they hid in the closet, my son has never talked much about them or asked why they do them. For now, I'm happy for him to leave the worrying to me. Because if it ever hits him just how realistic the threat is, how can I assure him he's safe? I can't. I don't feel safe myself. And I can't count how many times I've had to force myself to repel the thoughts that have crept in during low moments since Sandy Hook. What would I do if the news on my Twitter feed came from his school?

We didn't worry about mass shootings back when I was in school. In our day the freakabilly nightmare was nuclear holocaust. I have some vague recollection we were meant to hide under our desks, though I don't remember ever actually having a drill to practice doing so. I remember kids talking about the movie The Day After when it aired on TV back in 1983. I didn't watch it. I can't remember why. Maybe I just didn't want to think about it in that much detail. It was bad enough as some vague notion that we'd all be wiped out. But that's all it was, was a vague notion. It wasn't real. It never happened.

And then came Columbine in 1999, and school tragedies became very, very real. And they've come along at ever-accelerating rates over the past two decades, so the intervals between are only ever long enough for the hopeless, helpless feeling to recede but never disappear. And every time a mass shooting rips a community apart, be it in a school, a movie theater, a church, a concert, or a night club, the hopeless helplessness floods in again. There's nothing we can do. We have accepted this. If we couldn't pass any reforms after the sickening slaughter at Sandy Hook, we never will.

And then I saw that Emma Gonzalez speech, and for the first time I felt a flicker of hope. And over the past few days that has grown. Sure the NRA still owns the Republican party, but they've been put on alert. These kids don't give a shit how much money the gun lobby pumps into the campaign coffers. They are ready to change history. Kids are like that. Tell them they can't do something, and they'll do it just to piss you off.

The thoughts-and-prayers politicians who ignored the pleas of the Sandy Hook families won't be able to do so this time around. Their bullshit, condescending, dismissive "this isn't the time to talk about it" rhetoric isn't washing with these kids. Emma and Co. ain't having it.

They have time and they have passion, and when you combine the two, things start to happen. Things start to change.

I'm realistic enough to know there will be other horrific incidents. But maybe, just maybe, we can start to stretch the intervals back out, to the point these are not such regular headlines. It feels today that this might not be too much to hope for. Seven days ago it did. A lot can change in a week.

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