One of the most appalling things about tragedies is that we’re all subject to them.
The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida devastated me. I found out about it at the beginning of my shift at a mental hospital. During the evening I kept sneaking off to a linen closet to cry. I became angry and depressed and wanted to lash out at everyone; from the NRA leadership, to gun manufacturers, to the members of Congress who are supposed to represent me here in Texas, but don’t, to my Republican co-workers.
I couldn’t figure out why this one affected me in this way. I grieved for the victims of all the previous mass shootings in the United States. I called my representatives and made demands. I voted. Why was Parkland so different to me personally?
I finally snapped when I saw Emma Gonzalez give her “We call BS” speech three days after the shooting. The difference was in the students. I watched so many interviews that night when I got off work. When I listened to her speech I realized I’d been here before. Not involved in a shooting, but involved in an avoidable tragedy.
In 1996 my daughter’s best friend Ginger was killed by a drunk driver.
I know the feeling of walking up to the mother of a child who I loved like my own and hearing her say, “We’re going to lose Ginger.”
I know the feeling of telling my daughter Nicole that Ginger was going to die. And then the feeling of slamming my fists repeatedly onto my steering wheel while screaming obscenities and sobbing.
I know the feeling of spending several days at the hospital and hearing Ginger’s sister screaming.
I know the feeling of seeing Nicole turn dead white and vaguely thinking that was something that only happened in books.
I know the feeling of being told that the drunk driver said it wasn’t her fault, it was Ginger’s time to go.
I know the feeling of sitting in a courtroom for several days, watching the defendant laugh with her attorneys when the jury left the room and forcing myself to contain my rage.
There are so many feelings involved when one is caught up in a tragedy. Sometimes one of them is hope.
Emma’s speech gave me hope and I finally realized I had subconsciously been connecting the initial interviews with the students in Florida to what happened in that small Texas town over 20 years ago.
A few members of Ginger’s senior class (23 remaining students) came to me to ask for help to raise awareness about drunk driving. I dealt with my grief by spending a year of my life helping them. A group of dedicated students on a mission raised over $20,000 to set up a permanent memorial college scholarship in Ginger’s name. It doesn’t sound like much, but if it stopped one innocent person from dying, all the hard work had been worth it.
That happened before social media became so prevalent in society. To the truly horrible people who are criticizing the MSD students, I have news for you. These young adults are well-informed, articulate, and so drop-the-mic in the faces of powerful special interest groups, pundits, lobbyists and politicians that you should be applauding them. They aren’t afraid of you and they won’t be stopped.
To be blunt, the MSD activists, along with thousands of others across the country have their shit together. They are more than capable of appearing on talk shows, writing opinion pieces, standing up to NRA stooges and organizing national marches. Our world is going to change for the better because these students won’t be ignored, can’t be intimidated and will forever be well-informed voters.
The student walk out on March 14 was just the beginning of the #NeverAgain movement. There were so many amazing images that day and some of the most powerful were included in a short documentary film by Jaden Duenas, NBG Productions.
I want to go to March for Our Lives. I can’t because of work, but I sent a surrogate in my place. Roosevelt has comforted me for over a year. I cried when I put him in the box to be mailed to Emma Gonzalez. I hope she received him and he gets to go to the march. Even if he doesn’t, I hope he’ll bring someone the same comfort he has given me. I don’t need him anymore because young people across the country have given me lasting hope.