Like hundreds of other schools around the country, today, our Middle School students joined the National School Walkout in remembrance of those students and staff who lost their lives at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Though sadly, there have been dozens of other school shootings during the past several years, the Parkland shooting, and the activism of its surviving students, has energized youth across the nation to finally say, “enough!”
The march at Holy Spirit School was simple – students left their classrooms in silence, each carrying a beautifully decorated paper cross with the name of a Parkland victim, and marched single file around the school to the Church. Once inside, the silence continued and a slide show with the faces and names of each victim was projected. We ended our silence with a prayer led by our Student Council Religious Affairs Officer.
What was remarkable about our march was not the steps we took to honor these fallen students and staff. What was remarkable was the silence. Out of respect and in remembrance of their fellow students at Parkland, our students remained steadfastly silent throughout the seventeen minutes and beyond. Even the well-known “squirrels” and semi-professional class clowns, stopped their fidgeting, squirming, and whispering to view, in solidarity with their peers, the results of what our society is capable.
Even more remarkable than the silence, were the tears and muted sniffles of the students in the room. As the Parkland victim’s pictures filled the screen, and a bell tolled for each one, it was possible to feel the air being drawn from the room each time the slide changed. By the time the final prayer was tearfully read aloud, the air was returning, but only enough for each of us to be thankful for each other.
As the students returned to class, breathing deeply for the first time in seventeen minutes, they were still silent, though even an outside observer could sense a change. Some exited holding hands, some were still in tears, but most of all, they appeared grateful – certainly for the end of an emotional and moving service – but also, for the newly appreciated gift of each other. Life can indeed be short and even cruel at times, but at least for today, while remembering those who were taken from us, they are concentrating on those that remain.
Whether the “movement” of ending the violence and creating the awareness for change that has arisen from Parkland and other senseless tragedies continues into the future, we cannot say. However, I am encouraged by the words shared at the service:
“Our prayer service and our period of silence this morning recognize the dignity and well-being of each and every person. We recognize how precious every life is and how fragile it is. At any given moment, unexpected events can change the course of our lives forever. Time and time again we are reminded that life is a gift and we need to cherish every moment we have. Let this be a reminder for us to be thankful for what we have, who we have, and to treat each other with kindness and respect.”
As I returned to my office, I could not help but be reminded of the now even more powerful words from Isaiah 11:6, “A little child shall lead them . . .”