“Do you know that there have been 239 school shootings since Sandy Hook?”
“Mom.” My younger daughter’s voice cracked, “One of the boys got his acceptance letter into a college the day before.”
She stood in the shadow of a door in the one corner where she could charge her smartphone while scrolling the deluge of messages and postings from teens all over the country about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. She will graduate in a few months.
We stared at each other. It’s hard to come up with words in such a moment. Sometimes there aren’t any. Her long hair was loose and wavy from a run in the rain. In the dim light she looked like one of those ephemeral paintings by J.W. Waterhouse. A mythological maiden. An image of worry and wonder. Fragile yet fierce.
She stomped off to study for a calc quiz in a flurry of anger—and I imagine also a wave of guilt and gratitude that she can even be angry about homework when 17 kids can’t. I’m with her. Those precious lives cut short. I think of the grieving father who couldn’t remember if he told his daughter “I love you” when he dropped her off at school that day.
I silently asked myself: What is the next best thing I can do right now? It seems that the grown ups are failing their children. Yet I sense a vibe. These kids won’t stand for it. This generation is going to do something about it. Two decades of a public health crisis in schools and they will use their common sense, pure and simple. They could care less about lobbyists and special interests. They care about each other.
But at 10 o’clock at night there is only so much a mom can do. There is an Eastern compassion practice called tonglen, which is a giving and receiving reflection to use in difficult times. As Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes in The Sacred Art of Loving Kindness, “It is a way to take upon oneself the pain of the world and transform it into love.” That’s what I choose to do in the moment.
Here is a simple version that I offer in my book.
Sit quietly and comfortably, perhaps with a hand on your heart. Breathe in and out in a comfortable way. As you breathe, bring to mind a sense of warmth, comfort, and ease, or whatever you need in the moment. Inhale this soothing feeling.
Bring to mind a person who is struggling and needs compassion. After you inhale a comforting breath for yourself, on the exhale offer the other person feelings of kindness, caring, comfort, and ease.
Then return to yourself, breathing in warm sensations. Switchback to the person you are visualizing. In an even flow of in- and out- breaths, receive and give warmth and kindness. Like a see-saw. Back and forth, back and forth. One breath in for me, one breath out for you.
It’s an uneven see-saw. All those kids. Parents. Friends.
Some say prayers are not enough. This feels true. But where would we be without them?
A sacred pause. A deep breath. One for me, for you. An infusion of air inviting a sliver of hope. Maybe even a dose of faith. When we start from a place of loving awareness a smidge of space opens up. It’s here where we can discern the next best thing to do. It can reveal a path to compassionate action.
Call a congressperson. Support sensible gun policy. Vote at the midterms. Volunteer. Donate. Speak up. Say I love you.
Make every moment count.
Are you concerned about Gun Violence in Schools and communities?
- Learn about Sandy Hook Promise
- Gun Violence: Get the Facts
- Another School Shooting—But Who’s Counting?
- Stoneham Douglas Victims Fund (Go Fund Me)
It is time for a kindness revolution. Kindness Cure Sightings:
- How to Start a Kindness Revolution (Book Review) by Greater Good Science Center
- Leading with a Kind Mind
- Path2Empathy Our Shoes
Getty Images, 2018
Tara Cousineau, 2018, Guns & Roses Multimedia