If you’re like me, you’ve been stirred up with many emotions seeing the huge social movement that has followed the unspeakably tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14th.
The grief, anger, and twinges of hopelessness from yet another mass killing have had to make room for the awe, admiration, and inspiration of this group of teenagers taking on the status quo in ways that my generation — just a few years older — haven’t really come close to.
Standing face to face with politicians. Actively preparing for the change they will be able to make when they will come of age and vote. Using the power of the internet to honor their fallen classmates, rally public opinion, and demand change.
Quite frankly, it’s caused me to reflect on how much time I’ve spent staring at myself in a Snapchat filter or looking at memes.
I’m tempted to be disappointed in myself and in my generation for being surpassed by these adolescents, and to cheer them on from a distance, resigning myself to the idea that they will be the change we couldn’t.
But I think there’s a better way to look at it.
Maybe there are some organic truths illuminated by these young citizens’ response to what they’ve gone through that we can all cling to and start replicating in our own circles, however small they may be.
And maybe we millennials can lay down our frustration-induced coping mechanisms — denial or apathy or perma-rage — and start to engage the world like these students, with our heads AND our hearts.
And our time.
And our ballots.
And our money.
And our feet.
1) When the unthinkable happens, come together and feel it together.
Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Whoa, what? Wouldn’t you think that the “blessed” ones are those who’ve never had to mourn?
But we all have so much to learn from those who have lived through the stuff of nightmares and have found a way to keep waking up every morning. Those who have walked through days/months/years of overwhelming grief to get to the moments of reprieve and hope. Those who have faced the disillusionment of it all and had the raw, guttural courage to cry out to God about what the point of all of this is anyway.
And in those moments, tidy theological answers or adages are rendered powerless. Offensive, even.
There is no currency for the grieving person except the loving presence of someone who will not desert them. That’s the only thing that can reach someone so deep in darkness and turn their mind from “I will not get through this” to “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this.”
Earlier this month on March 4th, the 10th anniversary of the death of my close friend Garrett Addison Clark passed. The days and weeks following his loss are mostly a blur to me. But I remember my classmate David holding me tightly as I sobbed violently. I remember going across town to Garrett’s high school and sitting on the concrete floor, mourning with his school family. I remember the moments spent with his parents and sister. I remember my friends sitting with me as I broke down the first time I was back at Buffalo Wild Wings, where I had last been with him, and again the first time I watched a movie with a funeral scene.
As painful as the grief was to feel, it would have been way, way worse not to feel it. Grief, trauma, and emotional pain don’t go away when we ignore them or distract from them. They are only assuaged when we process them, and we are only safe to process them when we know we are not alone.
We are wired to heal, but to heal we must come together.
2) Honor what you’ve been through in the best way you know how.
A frequent theme in recovery writings is how painful it can be for someone who has been through a tragic event to hear that it’s time to “move on” or “get past it,” even from well-meaning people. As if whatever they went through was like a temporary bout of the flu, and it’s time to return to life as usual.
The hard things we go through change us. They change our worldview. They change the way our synapses fire in our brain. They often even change our body chemistry (depression, anxiety, stress-induced immune disorders, etc).
There is no more life as usual.
It will not be the same.
The question is not if things will be different, but how they will be different. In this way, I believe rock bottom can actually be a gift. Rock bottom allows us to finally let go of the illusion of how we once thought it would be and accept that we have to find new tools, new perspectives. New designations of trust and authority in our lives. New habits.
I’ve let go of the idea that I can live is as if my marriage and divorce didn’t happen, but I still catch myself wishing I could live as if it didn’t effect me. This happens less and less with time — I’ve been incredibly blessed to have people who have helped me turn inward instead of away from the pain. I’ve learned to own my responsibility for how my actions have affected others, and to own the pain that others’ actions have caused me. Once I name those things out loud, it’s like my walls come down, and I am more open to God’s love and healing in those specific places.
I am not defined by divorce. Divorce is not my identity. But it was part of the inciting incident that allowed me to take a step back and recognize all of the ways that I wasn’t finding my identity in Christ or stewarding my own self well.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas students went through a horrific event that no one should have to go through. But instead of living the rest of their lives with the weight of that tragedy trapped inside of them, they have rolled it all together into a giant boulder of momentum that threatens every closed-minded, divisive narrative of how things won’t change because we’re just too polarized.
Our worst moments can be a chain that holds us back forever, or the fuel of finally engaging in the world as our honest, holistic selves.
The path is up to us.
That choice is the gift of rock bottom.
3) Things do NOT have to be the same.
The #MarchForOurLives movement seems to have shaken people awake not just across the US but all over the world. Much like the Women’s Marches and the Black Lives Matter protests, many of us have recognized that inaction is complacency which is the fertile ground of hate, tyranny, and abuse of power.
Being moderate in the face of evil is not a virtue.
Millennials, we are in a unique position to give tangible weight and resources to this hopeful promise of change. We are ahead of these students by a decade or more on average.
They aren’t educated or in the workforce yet, but we are.
They can’t vote yet, but we can.
They don’t have a scary-powerful influence on the public sector yet, but we do.
They are not the next generation of industry leaders, academics, politicians, pastors, moms, dads, teachers, authors, artists, and regular every-day world changers. We are.
Let us honor these “kids” by letting their example inspire us to step up and be the kind of humans we know we can. The movement has already started, but its speed, direction, and sustainability is mostly up to us.
“Do the best you know until you know better. And then when you know better, do better.”