Seventeen people are dead, 17 futures, 17 legacies, 17 family trees altered. They are grandchildren, future aunts and uncles, third cousins once removed, all lost, lives taken by a shooter at a Florida high school.
And they won’t make a difference — just like the 27 dead in Sandy Hook, and the 32 at Virginia Tech.
My high school classroom is full of young people, 33 at a time, who embrace, question or dread the future. They are students who want to hope, who depend on us to protect them, to give them a future, to guide them to become better than they ever thought they could be.
And we have failed them.
I go to school every day, armed with thoughtful lesson plans, effective strategies, a positive attitude and an open heart, even though I am underpaid and overtired. But I will protect your kids, or at least I will try with every fiber of my being.
I will lead them into the storage closet, and I will hold them and whisper words of comfort. I will tell them they are loved, and that everything will be OK, even though I know it won’t, not ever again, or at least not for a very long time.
I will scramble with them to the closest exit, where we will run for our lives together. I will be there, in the middle of the war. I will be there when terrified kids are screaming, when bullets are flying, when someone else’s child, or maybe your own, is shot in the back trying to get away.
I will be there when the police aren’t. I will be there while you are drinking your afternoon latte. I will be there in that split second when your child understands what evil really is. I will be there in the instant the terror is over, and I will be there the day, the month, the year after.
But where are you?
Where are you, mothers, fathers, politicians, corporations, Mr. President, citizens of this, the greatest country in the world?
It is not enough to question, to cry, to mourn. It is not enough to reflect, to prepare, to get mad. It is not enough to empathize, to debate gun rights, to say it’s time to do something. It is time to do better than this. It is time to be better than this.
It is time to listen, to let go of ego, power and self-interest. It is time for this great democracy to protect our children, they who are the embodiment of our freedom and the manifestation of our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, more than any gun could ever be.
It is time to be brave, aspiring to be as brave the children who have witnessed the atrocities of human evil, who have stepped over dead bodies of those they’ve grown up with, learned quadratic equations with, flirted with, dreamed with, who, in their survival, have exhibited more courage than we ever have.
And so we, too, must bravely act. We must have stricter gun laws at both the state and federal levels, not to inhibit our freedoms, but to protect them. We must step over the carnage that our lack of action has created and look it in the face.
We must reach across the aisle, all of us, and clean up our mess. It will be humbling, and it might hurt, but it is better than one more dead child, better than pretending our system isn’t flawed, or that tomorrow or the next day will be any different. Because it won’t.
I am not very political, but I am tired. On Feb. 14, 2018, 10 minutes before the last bell of the school day rang, 17 people were murdered in south Florida, kids with homework to do and futures to fill, teachers with errands to run and futures to inspire. Seventeen who did not go home that night and will never go home again. Seventeen who deserved better.
A community is shattered, innocence forever lost. We don’t wonder anymore how this could happen. And we know the world will never be the same ... at least for a few days.
Kara Beloate teaches drama and English at Peninsula High School.