Stoneman Douglas High School Seal (photo: Wiki­media Commons)

Yet another school shooting has ren­dered 17 fam­ilies without loved ones, a school with a broken heart, and an entire nation in fear. School shootings rep­resent an unfor­tunate, recurring predicament in this country. The time has come when we can no longer ignore it. We must search for real solu­tions; this must begin with our­selves. We are wit­nessing and allowing a fun­da­mental breakdown of our com­munity right before our eyes. As a nation, we can’t allow this issue to become subject to par­tisan pol­itics because the right to life does not come from gov­ernment but from God. We aren’t Repub­licans or Democrats when dis­cussing this matter because this is not a political issue; it’s a human crisis. We have for­gotten that we are all on the same team. Allowing our political dif­fer­ences to set us against each other empowers darkness and ani­mosity to succeed in ter­ror­izing our com­mu­nities. From the founding prin­ciples of our nation: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Hap­piness,” to the core of our faith: “Love one another,” we must go forward and strengthen the fun­da­mental prin­ciples we all agree upon.

Unfor­tu­nately, tragedies seem to be the only thing in our modern world that don’t have a political agenda. And like a phoenix rising from the ashes, beauty can emerge from hor­rific acts of evil. In the hor­rendous moments of a school shooting, people are not con­cerned with political dif­fer­ences or dis­agree­ments; they are solely deter­mined to survive. They are united in their ago­nizing effort to protect one another and defend human life. Moments of great calamity breed a necessity for one another in ways that other sit­u­a­tions cannot. In these moments of crisis, we instinc­tively tran­scend to a certain state, leaving behind all petty dif­fer­ences, focusing on our common humanity. In these moments of crisis we are forced to rise above indi­vidual interest and spon­ta­neously transform into a state of com­munity that under­stands our para­mount need for one another, demon­strating the good that resides in all of us. These moments, intended for great evil, nat­u­rally evoke our love for one another and strengthen our com­munity – the great paradox of life.

From the coast of Cal­i­fornia to the shores of the Northeast: from our nation’s capital to the rural parts of the Midwest, the American flag waves in unison at half mast. An entire nation mourns because of the heinous actions of a high school shooter in Florida. We have the capa­bility to love and unite against man’s common enemies, but fre­quently fail to live up to that potential. We don’t always carry this spirit forward.  

We have failed. We allow tragedies to be the only time we come together and lean on each other. After all is said and done we go back to our normal lives and forget the great pain and togeth­erness we felt. We revert back to our old ways of life that nur­tured the darkness. The same darkness that wreaked havoc on our nation. The same darkness that turned us against each other. We have for­gotten the words of St. Paul in 1st Corinthians: “If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” We are indi­vidual members of that greater body and therefore an intricate part of each other’s lives. Now, more than ever, we must arise together to find real solu­tions that assure schools con­tinue peaceful learning where children have the right to live to their greatest potential. As a national and cul­tural crisis chal­lenges us, the only solution is to unite hand-in-hand because we are all sus­cep­tible. When one member of the com­munity suffers, we all suffer.
Tragedy shines a light on our human potential and illu­mi­nates what we can truly accom­plish when we come together in love. Pres­ident John F. Kennedy said, “For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.” We are capable of the greatest good and the worst evil; it is up to us to decide what we will do, who we will be, and what line we stand in before the judgment of Christ.

School shootings played an intricate role in my childhood devel­opment. On March 5, 2001, in San Diego, Cal­i­fornia, Santana High School expe­ri­enced a hor­rific school shooting. At that time, the public mind was only familiar with Columbine. The Santana shooting gen­erated even greater shock in 2001 than shootings do today. Although I grad­uated from Santana High school in 2017, the shooting was only a distant thought; many stu­dents were too young to remember. Yet the impact of that dreaded March day lived on in the hearts of those who expe­ri­enced it. Martin Johnson, one of my teachers, wit­nessed the tragic event in 2001. Mr. Johnson, who retired with the class of 2017, taught English, Lit­er­ature, Film, and Art History at Santana for over 30 years. He wel­comed stu­dents into his classroom as they fran­ti­cally ran across the school grounds looking for pro­tection. Mr. Johnson embraced and con­soled the stu­dents in the fol­lowing days, and trans­formed the school’s culture in the fol­lowing years. Mr. Johnson said, “Evil radiates like circles from a stone thrown into a pond. In an economy of mercy, so does love. In an economy of grace, so does healing. Today, be mer­ciful. Today, try to heal the hurt you see around you.”

As Chris­tians, we have failed. We aban­doned our neighbor and sub­se­quently the body of Christ. We’re at each other’s throats as we grapple with this issue and des­per­ately search for a solution, for­getting that we are all fighting for the same cause, for­getting that we all want the same peaceful outcome to protect our people, espe­cially our children. We lack under­standing for each other, we don’t trust the opposing parties, we don’t even try to listen anymore. The lack of lead­ership in our local com­mu­nities and at a national level has eroded the American com­munity. Both sides approach the issue of gun vio­lence as if it were all or nothing, too afraid to admit that we actually agree because the answer lies in between the political chaos.

Gov­ernment has a role in our lives, but assuming it holds the keys to our destiny, for good or ill, is dam­aging to the com­munity and our faith. Imploring the gov­ernment to change, while in the same breathe not willing to admit our own per­sonal faults, sets a prece­dence that lures the com­munity into absolving cul­pa­bility. The com­munity must ensure that gov­ernment does their job and leg­is­lates to the best of their ability because we elected them to protect the American people. However, let us remember that gov­ernment does not leg­islate morality — that respon­si­bility is left to the com­munity. Pres­ident Dwight Eisen­hower said, “I think people want peace so much that gov­ernment had better get out of their way and let them have it.” Let us encourage our gov­ernment to act, be real, and sit down to have actual con­ver­sa­tions while working together. Not for party or pledges, but for the people who des­per­ately need their lead­ership. But let us also encourage our­selves to do the same; because the failures of gov­ernment reflect the failures of the people. Let the gov­ernment have its con­ver­sation and let us have ours. Let’s not forget that mil­lions of people, united in the har­boring of love, can create a culture that upholds the body of Christ and roots out evil. The col­lective power of indi­viduals who unite against a problem far sur­passes that of gov­ernment— so too its effects are much greater. Pres­ident Ronald Reagan said, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” Let’s not del­egate the respon­si­bility to anyone, including the select few who hold public office, because it is our indi­vidual respon­si­bility, as members of the body of Christ, to look out for our neighbors and create a peaceful com­munity.

Darkness has once more tor­mented our com­munity. It has left us in pain from the loss of our fellow cit­izens and it has left us in despair as we search for a solution. However, let us remember that we have allowed evil to divert our efforts against the common enemies of man, we have allowed evil to channel our fight against our neighbor. As written in Romans: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” As a cluster of stars shines brighter together, so must we gather to radiate the light of love and fel­lowship. It is not an easy chal­lenge that stands before us, its solu­tions are not as simple as the stroke of a pen — young and old, rich and poor, let us all do our part. From the chambers of Con­gress to the streets of our nation, let us all con­tribute what we have to offer. Let us par­tic­ipate as indi­vidual members of that greater com­munal body. All of this will not be com­pleted overnight, nor in the coming days, nor even perhaps in our life on this earth. But let us begin. Finally, let us go forward inter­nal­izing the words of a true example of the life we are called to live, Martin Johnson: “Let all of us meet on the other side and do what must be done to leave behind this culture of vio­lence and death.”

Stefan Kleinhenz is a freshman studying the liberal arts.