(This was originally written and posted on my Facebook feed last Sunday, 25th March, the day after we took part in March for Our Lives.)
Sunday afternoon. We’re in our local park. The first proper day one feels spring is in the air.
Despite the chill there’s a quality of brightness in the light, an inescapable pervasiveness about it that tells even a tropical girl like me that change, and change for the better, is about to come.
I sit on a bench at the fulcrum point around which all 3 kids are doing their own thing. Conrad being Conrad has been swallowed up in a gaggle of footballing boys, all new to him – but that has never bothered him. He is one person for whom the saying, “a new person is just a friend I haven’t yet met”, is exactly how it is. Every single time. In all my 4 decades I have never met anyone so formidably socially gifted. Old, young, male, female, tetchy, shy – to a man they melt before him.
On the other side, a small pink dot whirls round and round while a bright blue tracksuit sits on a nearby tree trunk chatting, evidently having found some friends he knew. I watch as Seraphine stops to talk to a mum, leaning attentively towards her, smiling. I can’t hear what they’re saying. But I can tell from their body language that she’s telling that mum that her little girl is welcome to join her on the swing, if she likes, and that Seraphine is happy to push her.
What does this happy domestic scene have to do with yesterday’s March for Our Lives?
In my head and heart, it’s all connected.
When I was reading the George Clooney letter (George Clooney to Parkland students: “You make me proud of my country again” published in The Guardian) that I shared on Facebook yesterday, I found out in the reading of it that there was this March going on.
I clicked through the link. It was 11.08am. The March was taking place at the new US Embassy, down the road from us in Battersea, at 12pm.
It was immediately obvious to me what I must do.
I told the kids to get ready and we went to be part of it.
On the way over, I started explaining. And that went on through the two hours that we were on the way there, joined the crowd gathering, and afterwards in the car, when Blake asked me (they were reading the slogans), “What did they mean Mama when they said “We call BS?””
So I showed them Emma’s speech.
I made sure they knew that this person, standing in front of thousands of people, being listened silently to and fiercely applauded as she paused to wipe away her tears of rage and grief inbetween telling her story to those who would (and need to) listen what was really happening to the lives of young people across the States and how they were being failed by those whose jobs it is to protect the innocence of their youth –
The same innocence that surrounds me, as I type this out on my phone, in the cold fresh air of Battersea Park as kids of all shapes and sizes and ages play freely, joyously, obliviously, taking their safety for granted – as they should, as is their RIGHT –
I made sure the kids knew that this girl was just a teenager herself.
It is wrong.
Some things violate you, to contemplate them.
I have written many times before that I view my work – as a mother, and as a guide to young people through my teaching, coaching, and training – as sacred work.
What gets me about this movement – the first march I’ve ever taken part in, or found myself caring this passionately about, with which we have no direct connection in our day to day lives –
But I’m not American. I come from a country which is as opposite to the States as can be, as far as gun violence is concerned. There have been other shootings, atrocities, bombings, tragedies, in the States and in many places elsewhere that have left me numb and appalled.
But this is different.
This time, what *got* me is that it’s the youth themselves who are rousing to action.
To protect themselves and their own right to safety and innocence.
Because, like Emma said so damningly in her speech, they did what the adults told them to do – in this case, report it to the authorities. Which they did. Again and again and again.
And yet – this amounted to nothing.
The killer was still free to buy his guns. And get accessories, to make his guns more powerful, work even better and faster.
You can look at this whichever way you want. You can – and the NRA has 5 million members, many of them parents, even teachers among them, and many more that are sympathetic to their cause – somehow allow your mind to be so deluded and twisted that you can sincerely believe that the solution to violence is more violence.
Or you can look deep into your heart. Even if you have absolutely nada that connects your own independent life with this issue of gun violence in the States.
And see that this is just
I can write so much more about this here. And indeed I had so much to teach my children from our taking part in this March.
But really, everything I had to teach and share and exemplify by my own mindset and behaviour can be boiled down to one thing that I told the kids as they sat quietly with me in the car afterward.
They had watched me earlier when they had asked me what one sign that said #neveragain meant.
I started explaining the picture on the signboard. Four students, dressed in black, heads bowed, holding hands. You can see the sign at the beginning of the clip above.
“You see these four students? They’re friends of those who got killed. And they’re there on stage… instead of celebrating their graduations, or all the things that they should have been looking forward to, they are there, marking their deaths…”
I was so choked up by this point I could hardly finish my sentence. “So, what this sign is saying is, such a scene should never be allowed to happen again.”
They watched me sob uncontrollably for a moment. I didn’t even know until I started telling them the story that I had such grief to feel. The lady in front of us turned around to look at me, her face full of understanding and respect. “Are you okay?” she asked. I told her the truth with a watery smile. “Yes, thank you. I’m so happy to be here.”
Blake had that look on his face. That sweet, wise, solid look. “I understand, Mama.”
What I told them in the car afterward was this.
“If there’s one thing I want you guys to take away from today, it’s this.
That ‘the only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to stand by and do nothing’.”
God knows I see enough of this.
I didn’t get the quotation quite right. But it was fit enough for purpose.
So that’s why we were there yesterday.
Because I wanted my kids to understand that we each carry the freedom and the duty, as long as we are alive, to choose. Whether to “stand by and do nothing”… or to do something, and keep doing something, to stand up against what we know is JUST wrong, and to stand up for what we know IS right.
What made this March, this movement special beyond the others is that it’s kids and young people like them who are leading the charge. That this “freedom and duty” isn’t just reserved for grownups. Therefore, something they can “postpone” until they’re older. No. Again, I see plenty enough of this kind of mentality around me. It doesn’t help anybody. Least of all our kids ourselves, who long to take part in a world that is as much “theirs” as it is “ours”.
What guts. What courage. What breathtaking eloquence, and conviction, and *ethics*, that we are witnessing blossoming around us in this movement as it unfolds… borne of the stoniest soil, watered by tears and heartbreak and what my teacher, the renowned American Buddhist scholar, lecturer, practitioner and Amherst- and Stanford-trained scientist, philosopher and PhD in religious studies Alan Wallace called “wrathful compassion” during our Cultivating Emotional Balance training with Dr Eve Ekman (see https://www.google.co.uk/…/mag…/arent-we-right-be-angry/amp/ for more; not Alan’s words, but many points I resonate with in here).
And these are teenagers.
Leadership comes in all forms.
It is up to us to recognise true leadership when it walks among us.
Actually, all that said and done… I realise what I sought to achieve with my kids yesterday was really much simpler than all this.
I wanted to teach them to care.
I’m glad I succeeded.