When I tell my peers at Emory University in Atlanta that I’m from Florida, sometimes they respond by telling me they have a Grandmother in Boca. Some ask if my house waged okay during Hurricane Irma. Or ask If I go to the beach every day and Disney every weekend.
But in the past week, the responses have changed. Now, they ask: how are you? Is your family safe? Did you know anyone who was killed? That’s because no one is thinking about Florida’s beaches right now. They’re thinking about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the city of Parkland. Not because of this little high school’s well-known programs or excellent principal, but because seventeen of their students were killed on Valentine’s Day by a maniac. They also know my house is about twenty five minutes from there and my high school was also in Broward County.
What have I been telling them, you ask? I first make it very clear that my proximity to this shooting by no way makes me a victim. But it does put my world into an entire new perspective. Well, I have had quite the week trying to put every emotion in to words over this tragedy. But I have found this:
Valentine’s Day in school, no matter what grade, is one of the best days of the year. I always remembered dressing in pink or red and walking into school excited to hand out the pre-packaged candies and presents I had for my friends that I loved.
It breaks my heart to think that instead, a nineteen-year-old boy walked into school with a gun and ruthlessly killed seventeen people my age in my hometown.
These innocent kids, my peers, were supposed to be doctors, lawyers, athletes, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and maybe even someone’s Valentine that day. They were not supposed to become a statistic in a textbook of tragedies for us to look at someday.
Stoneman Douglas High School, the place where people aced and failed tests, where students discovered what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives, where teenagers walked specific routes to class to spot their crush, has now become a haunted crime scene. All because of an evil in someone that was able to act because of someone’s neat little hunting habit.
I don’t mean to become political, but the reality remains the same: It could’ve happened anywhere. It happened to happen in our backyards. It can happen to anyone. And it WILL happen again if something doesn’t change.
So, what do we do?
One of the twisted rewards of a tragedy is the knowledge and lessons gained from them. The first is most appropriate, as the massacre that happened on Valentine’s Day reminds us to live and love in the moment. This intertwines with the idea that a tragedy can occur at any moment anywhere, and we can never ensure 100% safety, as much as we'd want to try.
Parents have apps like ‘Find Friends” or “Life360” to track their children and see where they are, because they think they are keeping them safe. And those intentions are all correct and unbelievably powerful. But there, unfortunately, is no app that lets you into another kid’s head to see whether they’re bringing a gun to school today, or on the subway today, or into the restaurant or movie theater. It doesn’t even have to be a gun. It could be fists or even words that make our children unsafe.
This is our world.
But that doesn’t mean parents need to smother their children or never let them out of the house. And the same for children, as they cannot live in fear and hide from what COULD be. Instead, we teach them what the students and teachers who were killed at MSD would want us to do: LIVE for the day.
Tomorrow is not promised. What happens after you close this tab is not promised. Hold the ones you love a little tighter each day. Don’t let a moment pass without letting someone know how you feel. I understand that life takes us on twists and turns. Sometimes we get caught up in meetings, exams or work. But those moments are nothing in the seconds it takes for a bullet to fly from a gun into the one you love. Life is fleeting and quick, and in a moment everything you ever had or loved can be taken from you.
This tragedy is our reality.
The high school commons have now become a shooting range. This tragedy is our reality. And while we can be cautious, we cannot spend our lives in fear. While walking into a building without the guarantee of walking out of it is a despicable world to live in, we cannot have that mindset when we get out of bed each day. Instead, we MUST love harder every single day. Because we never know when it is going to be our last.
The other lesson, and perhaps the most inspiring of them, all is that we, Floridians and Americans, are strong as hell in numbers. The amount of outreach and political protests being organized by teenagers is unreal. Additional support from celebrities and powerful influences put our little Parkland on the map. It is a shame that it had to happen this way.
The students at MSD and all South Florida schools are fearless and refuse to just become another statistic about gun violence, racism or mental illness. Instead, we want change. We realize that it shouldn’t have taken a tragedy to bring a community together. But we shouldn’t have to bury a child in order to make a change. And the last time I checked, a nineteen-year-old’s right to bear arms NEVER trumps the right of seventeen innocent souls to stay alive.
In these trying times, I often feel helpless at Emory being far away from my friends and parents who are all in Florida and dealing with the repercussions of last week’s shooting face to face. But then, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have them and that they weren’t at MSD on that fateful day. But I recognize that it could happen somewhere else tomorrow, or even here in Atlanta.
So I choose to speak my mind truthfully each and every day and shower those with as much love as I can. Every breath, step, and word is precious. Insignificant moments are NOT insignificant. Live for today. Live for those that you love. Live for those who didn’t get to go home from school last week.
Life is beautiful. Life is cruel. Life is short, but life is ours. Let’s make a change. It starts with us.