There is a side of this tragedy no one has been covering, and it’s a wound no band-aid can patch.
It’s not just the kids. The parents of Parkland will never be the same either. Their view of the world is shattered. Their universe is compromised. The corner of Pine Island Road and Holmberg Avenue, where the spacious campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School meets, will never be the same.
That corner is no longer the nondescript intersection where they pick up or drop off their kids for school. Any ride down that road will forever bring back memories of the massacre that wasn’t supposed to happen here; not in this wealthy, tree-lined, suburban community.
It’s an intersection you have always seen celebrated with ‘Go Eagles’ signs. You never expected to turn that corner into an army of sheriff’s cars and a sea of poinsettias. That’s not the memory you bargained for.
You see, parents sending their kids to school in communities like Parkland anticipated playgrounds and prosperity, not panic and despair. They live in a place they dreamed about. They were raising their kids in a place where the parks are green and beautiful, the landscapes are spacious, and the homes magnificently manicured.
You see, the parents who hoped to give themselves a better life found it in the spacious and sprawling suburbs of cities like Coral Springs and Parkland. Those parents, they did everything right, but now, despite their best efforts, everything has gone wrong. It was not supposed to be this way.
You were supposed to be taking your kids to soccer practice, not holding press conferences in Tallahassee announcing that you were organizing a group fighting for gun control. But here we are, and the media is getting messages from parents who formed a group entitled ‘Kids First, Politics Second.’ This may be the first of many for parents fighting back, trying to stop a pain that won’t ever go away.
We know life spins on a dime. In 1978, when I moved to South Florida, this is where I lived. I saw Springs and Parkland as emerging, thriving, growing community for families, schools, teenagers and suburban life. Surprise, I even started a weekly sports newspaper, entitled ‘Sportsbreak,’ to capture the spirit and energy of their active lifestyle.
For my peers starting careers in the courthouse, realtors, doctors, young men and women relocating to the oasis that was South Florida, west Broward was pristine and perfect. The cities were being shaped by professionals looking to raise families in residentially secure and aesthetically pleasing neighborhoods. Opportunity and beauty were everywhere.
I was overwhelmed on one hand by the thousands of families moving in along every canal, and how if you made a wrong left turn, you would wind up in one. Watch for the alligators, though.
Everything parents wanted for their lives emerged in these country-like communities. There are lit tennis courts for night time leisure and indoor hockey rinks. Just down the road from Stoneman Douglas is the Coral Springs North Community Park, with baseball fields manicured so well major leaguers could play on them.
Heck, there are so many thousands of kids participating in little leagues, soccer leagues, swimming competitions that when you watched the Olympics you heard one announcer after another point out that many of these kids haled from Parkland and graduate Stoneman Douglas. They included Chicago Cubs championship first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Florida Panthers goalie, Roberto Luongo.
One of the first responders to the shooting was an off-duty Coral Springs sergeant from the CSPD who was volunteering his time to maintain the football fields. In 1978, I used to do the same thing in Mullins Park, because we all chipped in to make the city a better place to live.
After Friday night high school football, you still go to the late-night diner for a milkshake. Your friends are there somewhere. With thousands of students at the high school, they are all working in one of the malls, shops, department stores or local restaurants.
My mom’s favorite restaurant was always Runyon’s, where the owner, Kevin O’Connor, donated food to help after the shooting. “I have 7 kids from the high school working here every night,” he noted.
This massacre has shocked the world and shook this community, but no one more so than the parents. And now, they are called into battle, fighting for laws and legislation that can tame the madness.
As a stunned parent, you wake up every day finding yourself in utter disbelief, mourning your child, maybe a neighbor’s child, or 17 lives.
You say to yourself, repeatedly, “But I did everything right. My son is on the baseball team, my daughter is in the drama club, how could this happen here?” Nothing makes sense because you did do everything right. You moved your kids to Parkland, where you knew your kids were going to come home at night.
What is the universal phrase from the Torah: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” So now what do you do?
How do you reconcile the pain of the present with all the planning you made of your life? All you wanted you had, was here, in your grasp. And now it’s been stolen away forever.
So how do you let your kids go back to class? Are you ever going to feel safe enough? Are there ever going to be enough police to protect all the kids? There is born the strength of your new tomorrows, swearing you won’t let it happen again, not to your younger children, or anyone else’s kids.
This is how you go on. You build a better tomorrow. You make the malls and the movie theaters safer, the schools stronger, and your heart tougher. Because the bleeding must end, and it must start with you. Kids first, politics second.
You are a parent, and you want to protect your child. You are supposed to be sending your kid to school, not a war zone. You are burying your children and you don’t need hearings to tell you what to do. Columbine and Sandy Hook were enough. The churches and the community centers were enough. Parkland is too much, so you arm yourself with purpose and passion, principle and pride. And you say, hell no, we won’t take it anymore.
This is what you do. You stand up. You are counted, and you say that while you may not have all the answers, you are the one who must start raising the right questions, must push the envelope, must march in Washington. To make those lives lost count tomorrow, we must make noise today.