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.