I began writing this message today, for us to share as we walk our urban village a few days from now at the start of a new week. As I write, television reporters speaking from across our country are capturing living images of what the morning newspapers had previewed. These witnesses lend me courage to join the thousands of eighth graders and high schoolers successively taking their stands in time zones across our country.
In my more “curmudgeonly” moments I have been heard to lament the fact that our 21st Century “millennials” were suffering from shrinking vocabularies and the death of glories of my own youth such as live, face to face conversation, reading of actual books, and cursive writing as they became hostages to tablets, smartphones and laptops. One month ago to the day, I met a glorious generation of young people who left me touched and dazzled by their dignity, maturity and articulation. As a fortunate woman who can be called “Aunt” I had seen, known and loved remarkable people who gave the lie to my worst fears about their generation. But until we lived the massacre in Parkland, Florida, some of us from the safe distance of print and electronic media, I suspect none of us fully realized the glories of our national treasure of the current generation dubbed “millennials.”
In the intervening weeks, I have observed the phenomenon of young men and women I would have considered “wise beyond their years” coping with, enduring, questioning events and circumstances I would have wished them never to have experienced. I have seen them ally with members of their own generation who have been thrust into tragic events not of their making. And I have realized that they have somehow resisted being styled as helpless victims. It may be too soon to summarize what we have seen, but at least a few conclusions seem justified.
Masses of our fellow citizens have moved far beyond an interpretation of recent tragedies with responses that suggest that somehow adults should have shielded them from these dreadful realities. Marshaling the inner resources marketers identify as this generation’s tendency to be critical, the youth of Parkland have reached out to their contemporaries and recruited a fellowship wise enough to move beyond a “why us” response and into a deeply human and remarkably “adult” response. In the process they remind us of another millennium. How crucial it is, in the face of preventable tragedies, to focus on the positive power to move from “if not this…” and come face to face with the real question namely, “…then what?”
Listening to the remarkable wisdom and maturity of victims turned leaders has strengthened the resolve of this individual of an earlier millennium. Like the youth I have heard and admired, I will be increasingly unwilling to settle for the “What’s the use?” response, recognizing that that is a sure-fire way to harden divisions into insurmountable obstacles to the healing so many currently lament but do not confront.
High School students who had clearly read and analyzed their legislators’ proposed programs for preventing future atrocities called out and identified the missing elements of those proposed solutions – banning the sales of certain weapons and increasing the age requirements before someone can purchase a gun. They raised these questions in an adult, articulate manner. Questions were posed in a way to express optimism that dialogue was possible and that it is always preferable to mere confrontation.
Most of all I saw today’s millennials use passion to fuel compassion. Walk-outs were accompanied by walk-ins as students took note of their classmates who showed signs of or apparent preferences for isolation and made gentle efforts to engage with them on a one-to-one basis leading to a sense of inclusion.
In the hearts of our children, something quite fine is evolving. There is more than a glimmer of hope that “never again” will be succeeded by a truly humane and determined “from now on…” I think I can hear echoes of the promise of this byword: “A little child will lead them.”
Top Bigstock Photo: Students at Sunnyside High School during National School Walkout protesting gun violence. March 14, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona.