Thursday, March 15, 2018

17 Minutes

In solidarity with the National Student Walk-out today, 4 of our Middle School students organized a Memorial Service for the Parkland victims. The 4th through 8th graders gathered in the Community Center with black paper and chalk and were invited to draw/ write or leave blank their feelings for 17 minutes. The student leaders read one name for each minute, bringing these young students and teachers into the room, not as a statistic of collateral damage, but as a once living-breathing human being whose life was cut short by our collective failure as a culture. A person with a name who just a few weeks ago was alive and now is no more.

And consider those names. There was a family name that spoke of their ancestry and their still-living loved ones, parents who conceived of them, conceived them, birthed them, fed them, clothed them, nurtured them, drove them places, had fun with them, got mad at them, read to them, sang with them and loved them. In that name might also be grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, all now joined together in inconsolable grief, face to face for the rest of their days with the empty bed where their child once slept, the clothes they wore, the papers they wrote and pictures they drew, left only with memories and the photos on the mantelpiece. Day after day only the shadowy remembrance of the living being who once was and now is no more.

And then the first name. Maybe named for a distant relative or place or special person, investing that newborn baby with a dream of a bright future, a vow to create a shelter for that dream and protect the future, only to have it shattered by a weapon of mass destruction sold for someone’s profit. “What happened to a dream deferred?” asked Langston Hughes and there are many ways to shut down the dreamers, but none more irrevocable than murder. And so these young teachers and students had their futures taken from them, futures they deserved and were worthy of. And who knows? Perhaps one of them might have come up with a viable solution to climate change? And now not.

Did Congress take 17 minutes out of their schedule to properly mourn or grieve these names? I don’t believe they did. Our national habit of a cursory “thought and prayer” and then back to business was all geared up to go and then something remarkable happened. The children said no. They woke up to the fact that the adults were stuck in their years of carelessly-crafted arguments that had shut down their hearts and crippled their imagination and crumpled their once-youthful idealism. And so they took charge. “Enough, “ they say.  “These are our lives and our futures and we say ‘no more!’ We will not sit in history class talking about the Civil War as an issue of State’s Rights or discuss al-gebra (does school realize we’re using Arabic numbers? Is it a conspiracy?) when we fear for what may come through the door. And no, our teachers with guns does not make us feel safer. Get that out of your head.”

After the 17-minutes of silence, kids returned to class. My Jazz History Class resumed and it was perfect moment to play what I had already intended, “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. Another case of culturally-sanctioned murder, the shameful silence of those who could have done something about it and the determination of a Jewish high-school teacher, Abel Meeropol, to speak out about lynchings by the terrorist KKK. The kids listened with a deep intensity. They’re only 14, but I believe they are more capable of facing head-on the harsh truths of our time without losing hope than just about any member in Congress.

I passed the four student leaders later in the hall putting up the messages from the kids and made some logistical comment about something they might consider for next time. And without missing a beat, one of them said, “Well, hopefully, there won’t be a next time.”

Do you see what I mean about hope? Every statistic since Columbine predicts no end and yet, he still kept hope in his heart that we will come to our senses. And who am I to contradict him? Would you? I hope not.

Blessings to the children. The child is now parent to the adult.

In the spirit of remembering the names and ages of those martyred so the gun business can keep earning big money, I reprint them below. Consider have a private or family ritual of your own, your own 17 minutes to feel the genuine grief and rise up determined to turn this around. Read about them, look up their photo, say each name out loud, take a minute to mourn and renew your vow to protect our children with love, care and sensible policy.

Alyssa Alhadeff-14. Scott Beigel-35. Martin Duque Anguiano—14. Nicholas Dworet-17. Aaron Feis-37. Jamie Guttenberg-14. Chris Hixon-49. Luke Hoyer-15. Cara Loughran-14. Gina Montalo-14. Joaquin Oliver-17. Alaina Petty-14.Meadow Pollack-18. Helena Ramsay-17. Alex Schacter-14. Carmen Schentrup-16. Peter Wang-15.

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