I’m trying to settle into an emotion after the school shooting in Florida.
Shock isn’t quite right. We’re not really shocked anymore, are we? We’re a country awash in guns. I don’t know if it’s honest to say mass shootings are shocking anymore. They’ve happened in churches and movie theaters, military bases and college campuses. A nightclub, a giant outdoor concert. So, so many schools.
Numb isn’t right either. Growing numb to a tragedy this profound and far-reaching is to admit defeat — not just in the fight to curb mass shootings, but in the fight to believe we should try to. The fight to believe that human lives are sacred and miraculous and worthy of our best efforts.
Fear? I feel plenty of fear. Every single morning that I drop my kids at school, I feel fear. Most parents that I know do. That doesn’t subside when we go a few weeks between shootings.
But fear is paralyzing and rarely useful. And I want to settle into an emotion that’s honest but also guides me toward some action or mission. Some way to be, in the wake of these all-too-common tragedies.
Outrage, certainly. It’s the thing I feel first and longest when I read about lives cut short by guns. And outrage is, arguably, the spark that most often ignites us to action, inspires us to push like mad for change.
But I’m going to sit for a while, right now, with gratitude. Gratitude for the people — and they are legion — who swoop in during a tragedy and offer help and hope and humanity.
I have a front-row seat this week.
The parents who showed up at my kids’ school, the school Chicago police Cmdr. Paul Bauer’s daughter attends, to tie blue ribbons around every tree.
The ad hoc committee of parents and school staffers who’ve been working around-the-clock, since Paul was killed, to rally and organize support for his family.
The people who never met him who’ve emailed me to say: Can I help with hospitality or coffee at his wake? Can you please send his family this quote from my grandfather’s headstone? (“The world is a better place because this man lived.”) Where can I donate?
The dear friend who lost her own husband in 2012, far too young, far too suddenly, and is determined to help Paul’s widow find a path toward some kind of healing.
For every one of the gestures I’ve witnessed, I know there are dozens I haven’t. And I know the same thing is happening in Florida.
I know the 17 families whose lives were forever shattered that day are feeling the embrace of a grieving but devoted community. The meals dropped by. The funds donated. The vigils planned.
It’s not enough. It doesn’t bring back loved ones. It doesn’t prevent more families from experiencing a similar loss next week, next month, next year.
But it’s also not nothing.
It’s a power we all have, in the face of a scourge many of us feel powerless to end: the power to help someone heal. The power to bring a tiny bit of light into the dark.
It’s a reminder that good isn’t extinguished by evil; it’s ignited. We rise up and take care of one another.
I see it all the time. When I write about people who’ve lost children, when I write about people who’ve lost partners, when I write about people who are struggling through some of the worst sort of adversity: People want to help. They find ways to help. They’re tireless in their desire to help.
It’s not everything. But it’s something. And I’m grateful for it.