I am much more the observer than the activist, and I so respect the activist. Like many people, I’ve struggled with where and how best to challenge those things needing to be challenged. And I watch my children do the same, the three in very different ways, none right and none wrong. After all, it takes all voices to eventually make lasting change.
Yesterday’s #MarchForOurLives was bold and loud and righteous and lead by youthful, vibrant voices. Those of us on the grey side of life followed. We stood back and supported the voices from the stage and the voices around us, the voices calling for change and heart and compassion and life. The voices not yet jaded by cynicism and defeat and political ridiculousness, but rather empowered by their lives, their youth, their own very scary daily reality.
Natalie and I and friends went to DC yesterday to support, to be a part of, to voice our own hope that gun regulation will be part of this country’s near future, that child shootings would be a thing of the past, that schools would somehow become a safe haven for children all across this country.
And when I came home to my boys, my oldest torn that morning between attending and not, I listened to a different though no less important side of this issue. Yes, gun regulation is long overdue in this country and that road will be bumpy and long and worth the trip, but there is an even darker and in many ways more challenging side to the issue, one requiring not regulation, but compassion and bravery.
I sat next to a gentleman yesterday who was carrying his life in a bag, a bag my daughter was convinced carried a bomb. And I kept my eye on it every time he reached in. No bomb. Just clothes, water, snacks and a huge amount of newspaper and magazines, all containing muscle-bound men. And periodically he would point to one of them, #13, and tell me that was him. And after telling me that he had shot 3 men in Afghanistan while on duty in the army, he asked if I thought he should be denied a gun. And I said yes. And this pissed him off. Eventually, he left, moved on to find another protestor to talk with, to engage, to question, to enlighten. At one point, just to lighten the situation, I offered him beef jerky, which he politely refused. My intent was to humanize the situation, lighten the interaction. I’m naïve like that. I always believe that underneath everything, we are the same, we need the same things. To be seen. To be heard. To be included. We just need to find the common ground, and yesterday I hoped that might be beef jerky.
So this brings me to my oldest yesterday. All in all, the crowds would have overwhelmed, and he was just as happy to read about the protest, but he also welled up with anger that the entire movement failed to adequately address the issue of bullying. Yes, guns are the problem. Yes, regulation is needed. Those are long-term solutions to an immediate problem, and the backlash is already evident. But those same people calling for regulation are often the same people (young and old) who fail to engage when bullying is taking place, when individuals are being marginalized, when monsters are being born. It’s easiest, always, to be part of the crowd, to be part of the protest, to be part of the audience, to be the observer. It takes courage to stand alone, to question the masses, to put your own self on the line. As adults, we fail at this. I know simply in my own life and in talking to friends that we rarely step outside to include others when there is a risk of losing what we have. And if this is the model we give our children, how can we expect otherwise?
I met one of John’s favorite (actually his favorite) middle school teacher yesterday on the way to DC. She had with her a remarkable group of high school students, open, confident and optimistic. And yesterday evening, John remembered a CNN piece featuring this teacher and his class in an anti-bullying program focusing on the work being done in her classroom to address bullying. The impact of teachers like that is amazing and evident in my son and his compassion and actions and in her current students I’m sure. When teachers are given the space and tools to address the whole student, this is where change happens. This is where compassionate adults are formed and targeted children can still be brought back from the edge.
I wonder if the voice missing in all of this might be the voice most important, the voice of the marginalized themselves, and the families struggling with them.