“For one true measure of a nation is its success in fulfilling the promise of a better life for each of its members. Let this be the measure of our nation.”
—John F. Kennedy
I've Been Thinking...
There is so much to say right now, and yet at the same time, I have no words. There is so much that has already been written about what happened this week. People have cried, raged, and expressed every emotion under the sun. Politicians have stepped out of line, and others have toed the line. If it feels like we have been here before, it’s because we have. And yet, this time also feels different.
I’ve got to believe this time will be different. It has to be. We have no other choice. Last week in my essay, I welcomed you into my mind. Today, I want to write to you from my heart.
My heart is shattered. Yours may be as well. I’m so sorry. I’ve been here before, and I’m sure you have as well. I’ve picked up the fragments of my heart before, so I know I can do it again. But each time, each situation feels different.
I know the sickness in my stomach pales in comparison to the shock and pain the families in Texas are enduring. I know their pain is indescribable. I know this week’s tragedy has triggered fresh pain in the families from Parkland, Sandy Hook, and everyone else who has lost a loved one to violence in our churches, our supermarkets, our movie theaters, and our streets.
So many of our neighbors cannot put the pieces of their hearts, their lives back together. How could they? How could you if you lost a child this week? How could you if you lost a mother, a brother, a sister, or a husband in Buffalo or Uvalde? May we honor the grief so many are experiencing. May we acknowledge the gut-wrenching pain.
We’ve gone through 27 school shootings so far this year and summer hasn’t even started. Twenty-seven so far this year! We have had 214 mass shootings so far this year.
Absorb these numbers, if you can. We are a nation in crisis, at war, and under duress.
This is Memorial Day weekend, which is traditionally the unofficial start of summer. It’s a weekend to remember those who lost their lives fighting for our country. It’s now a weekend to also remember those who lost their lives simply for living in our country.
Pause with this. Allow that to sink in.
Our beautiful country, that has served as such a beacon of light and hope, is shrinking before our very eyes. I can feel it. I can sense it. I feel not just the anger and the rage, but also the hopelessness, the despair, and the desperation. Our collective grief is everywhere. And yes, you can die from your heartbreak—your grief—as we all witnessed this week.
It’s hard to collect oneself. It’s hard to have hope and faith. It’s hard to imagine a way forward. But we have no choice. The path forward will determine whether we can rise or continue to shrivel and shrink. We are at a critical fork in our collective story. Our mental, emotional, and spiritual health is on the line. Our children are not safe. Truthfully, no one is.
We must talk not just about sensible gun reform, which the vast majority of us want and favor. We must also acknowledge that we need more mental health programs to help our children, our teachers, our parents, our law enforcement, and our leaders.
We must also acknowledge that something deeply troubling is happening in the lives of our young men. In their minds and their hearts. Men and boys are in terrible trouble. We must acknowledge this truth and we must have this conversation out in the light of day. We need good men to own this issue. We need compassionate, peaceful, loving men to chart a new way forward.
Families are also in trouble and stressed at the seams. America is in trouble in every neighborhood, at every level, and in every way.
In my own life, I’ve found growth only after lifting the veil on my own denial. Denial is dangerous. It allows you to live in an alternate world. But once it’s lifted, it allows you to begin your real work—the kind of work that changes lives and saves lives.
We must all awake from our denial. We must all admit that easy access to guns—assault weapons, in particular—is fueling violence. We must all come to the realization that each of us can do more than we are doing or have done. We must each realize that accepting the status quo is simply not acceptable. We must think differently, act differently, and be different. We have no other choice. That’s our collective truth.
So on this Memorial Day, we pay tribute to those who have lost their lives fighting for our country. They fought for our freedoms and for our democracy so that we could live in a country of possibilities. They didn’t give their lives for what we are dealing with now: extreme partisanship, stagnation in our nation's capital, violence in our streets, violence on social media.
Political leaders must come to the table and seek compromise. They must put the lives of our families before their careers. Nothing else is acceptable. Each of us must vote for leaders who support the gun reforms that are needed. Each of us must demand mental health programs for our schools. Each of us must learn how to manage our own emotions in a calm, loving way so that those who look to us for guidance and hope can feel some measure of peace.
Each of the people interviewed for today’s Sunday Paper is trying in their own way to move us forward. Each of them is trying to have hope. They are trying to use their voices to tell us the truth about where we find ourselves and what we can do to move forward.
Look, I understand if you have lost hope. I understand if you are heartbroken or devastated by the news of the week and the pictures out of Uvalde, Buffalo, Ukraine, and beyond.
But I implore you to not give up. Scarlett Lewis and Fred Guttenberg both lost children in school shootings, and yet every day, they get up and use their voices for change. Scarlett asks each of us to choose love. Fred asks each of us to vote. My friend David Kessler honors our grief and teaches us how to deal with it.
The parents of those who died in Afghanistan urge us not to lose hope. Wandrea' ArShaye Moss, who won the Profile in Courage Award last week for her work to protect our democracy at the voting booth, urges us to safeguard our basic rights.
They all inspire me. They all give me hope. They remind me of the overwhelming good that exists.
So my fellow brothers and sisters, please do not give up. We owe it to those who have fought in every way for our country to carry on with strength, dignity, and courage. It’s on us to do so. This time it’s different. It has to be, and so it will be.
So please pick up the pieces of your heart. Join me. Resist the notion that nothing will happen. See yourself as part of a resistance movement. See yourself as strong, committed, loving individuals that are willing to say it doesn’t have to be this way. My fellow Americans, we have work to do. We have a country to save. Yes we do. We have families to comfort in their grief, children to reassure, and political leaders to remind that if they don’t vote for what we want we will throw them out. We need them to know that we, the People, have had enough and that this time we mean it! We have tremendous power. Believe me, we do. Let’s use it to right our country, to save our neighbors, to save the dream that so many gave their lives for.
It’s up to us. Let’s go.