“What do I do if I’m in the hallway during a lockdown?”
Just a few months ago, my now six-year-old, then five-year-old, asked me this question. And for just a moment, my heart stopped. My eyes got suspiciously watery. This was my reaction even before the Parkland shooting; before learning about the teacher in that school who opened the door to his classroom, against policy, to let students in, and who himself died as he locked that door again to keep those students safe. This was before I learned of the student who threw himself in the line of fire to close the door and protect his friends and is still working hard to recover from the bullet wounds he sustained.
When I took a breath, I remembered that my child doesn’t understand the depth of the question he posed. While I do talk to him about a lot of things, I have not yet told him that sometimes, too often, human beings take up weapons and murder children as they pursue knowledge and understanding. I am not ready for my first-grader to fear for his life every day he goes to school; for now, that’s the burden I bear.
In truth, I don’t worry every day. Largely because that’s no way to live. I have a dear friend who moved to an area of the world that is in constant turmoil. A long time ago, when she first moved, I asked how she could live under the shadow of fear created by perpetual violence. I don’t remember her exact words, but she said, essentially, you just live, and you can’t just live if every moment is spent in worry about things you can’t control.
Across this world, there are many people, like my friend, who live in circumstances that are uncontrollable; amidst violence that can’t be contained even by the governments of those lands. Not so us. When we, in our seemingly first-world country with a rule of law and an established social contract, dare to suggest that our gun violence problem cannot be contained, it is an insult to those lives lost to worldwide chaos. And to those lives stolen here by guns.
Over my years as a minister, I have held many vigils, lit many candles, stood in silent prayer many times. I have written emails to my congregations, posted on social media, claimed the space of thoughts and prayers as a clergy person. During one of the recent mass shootings, colleagues of mine began posting a small paragraph on social media. It said simply: Dear Congress, I’m a minister, I’ve got the thoughts and prayers covered. Do your job and change our laws.
But laws will only change when there is enough economic, social, and political pressure to change them. So even we ministers, whose stock-in-trade is, in part, thoughts and prayers, can’t rest on those alone. It does not serve the memory of the children, youth, and adults slain these many years in mass shootings and in singular events; it does not serve the survivors who will spend their whole lives with the memory of that trauma; it does not serve any person, raising a child, who fears at drop-off that they may not see their child again; it does not serve the generations of children growing up practicing lockdown drills and wondering what happens if they get stuck in the hallway. I will never say that thoughts and prayers are irrelevant, but without action they do little to change the world. So action there must be. And it must be action taken up by millions and sustained over long periods of time if we are going to shift the national conversation about guns, the Second Amendment, the value of life, and the cost of safety. Our historic relationship with guns in this country is so deeply enmeshed with our racism, our fear, our sense of freedom, and our capitalism, one protest will never be enough. But it is a place for us to start.
Next week is the #Enough walkout. On March 14 at 10:00 a.m., across the country, students and parents and, where possible, teachers and administrators will walk out for 17 minutes – one for each Parkland victim – of silent protest. We will be protesting lax gun laws, protesting a system that privileges a right to bear arms over a child’s right to live, a system that privileges money over the common good. Children and youth and adults alike are invited to be part of this national protest.
If you are interested in participating, go to https://tinyurl.com/RI-enough for information about poster-making and the protocol for the morning of the protest.
I know it won’t be long before I have to have a clear conversation with my child, a conversation I am dreading for the ways it will surely make him feel unsafe in the world and in his school. I wish with every part of my being that that conversation were unnecessary for all of us. Until then, I’ll breathe deep and answer his questions as best I can. I’ll offer my thoughts and prayers. And I will keep using my body and my voice and my privilege and my power to speak out against a culture of hopelessness and greed and antiquated laws based in fear and misunderstanding that empower violence and fear and reduce our humanity. I’ll keep doing what I am able in order to value the common good, to privilege others over perceived personal freedom, and to help us all come closer to a just world.