Calling All Angels

America buried four more of its children today. Let me speak their names: Cara Loughran (age 14), Gina Moltalto (14), Carmen Schentrup (16), and Peter Wang (15). They were among the 17 individuals killed in last week's Valentine's Day massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, by now you know the story. If you don't, you can read it here, moment by moment, if you can stomach it. An angry young man whose name I will NOT speak, age 19, armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic style weapon, entered the school he had been expelled from, set off a fire alarm, and began shooting people in the resulting chaos and confusion. Heroes stepped forward to save others; some of them were killed because of their actions.

If you have been on social media since February 14, you have witnessed first-hand what happens after every mass shooting. The left cries out for the implementation of sensible gun rules. The right swears you'll have to pry their Second-Amendment-rights guns from their cold, dead hands. And politicians? They send their "thoughts and prayers."

The day after the shooting, my oldest sister sent us a note on email. Her dearest friends have family in Parkland; three of their little girls attend the school where the shooting took place. They were among the lucky ones; all three of their girls are still alive. So many others were not as fortunate.

The one little girl, age 13, is being recognized as a hero for saving her entire class, except for her best friend, whose hand she was holding when she was shot and killed; this little girl took some comfort in being able to tell the dead girl's family that her friend was not alone when she died.

I wake up at night thinking about those two little girls, holding hands, the one living to breathe another day, the other not. The little girl who lived - what will her life be like from this point on? Will she be changed? How could she NOT be?

I have a little niece about that age. I hate the fact that I have to wonder whether her school has a plan for what their strategy will be, should such an event take place there. I hate the fact that teachers everywhere are asking themselves: are they strong enough to be like some of the heroes of the Parkland school shooting? Would they be willing to take a bullet to save a child?

I don't know how much money teachers make, but I don't think it includes hazard pay for putting your life on the line every day. And around central Pennsylvania, money is tight, and teachers and school supporters use their own money to purchase necessary school supplies, like notebooks. So arming the teachers with Glocks and Kevlar vests, and training them all, may not be in this year's budget; probably not in next year's budget either.

I try to live - and write - from a place of love, but I find I cannot do that for this topic. I am offended, I am outraged, and I am furious that once again the innocent have died at the altar of the gun, and that so little has changed to stop it.

Lest you think I am your typical left-wing, tree-hugging, anti-gun liberal, let me state where I am coming from. First, I am a Christian, raised Methodist, to be specific. (That Internet meme is actually true: What does it take to be a United Methodist? Love Jesus and own a 9 x 13 pan!)

That means that my allegiance is to follow Christ and his teachings and his example before all else. And to take up the challenge to live a life filled with grace, that also speaks the truth that is in my heart: that the greatest task of life is learning to live and act in love.

And we mean love as an ACTION verb. Love that doesn't sit alone on the sidelines all helpless, wringing its hands, but that takes meaningful action to make the world a better place. Believe me, this is not a task for the faint-hearted.

I was raised in rural central Pennsylvania, in a gun-owning family. My father and brother hunted, and the meat on our table when I was growing up was often provided by guns. There were guns in the house. I have handled guns. I know how to shoot a gun. I can reload a clip in the dark.

One of the first things we were taught by our mother at home, though, was YOU DON'T POINT GUNS AT PEOPLE. Not even TOY guns. Not EVER. As you might imagine, this took nearly all the fun out of those childhood cowboys-and-Indians or cops-and-robbers games. But it was a good lesson to learn so thoroughly, at such an early age.

I am not against guns. I believe there are proper uses for them. Hunting is one of those proper uses. But where I live, there are rules to follow. You do not leave a loaded weapon lying around in a house where children have access to it.

You do not point guns - EVER - at people. If you shoot an animal, you make sure to kill it quickly so that it does not suffer. If you kill it, you make sure to eat it, that its life should not be wasted. If you can't quite eat all of it, you share the meat with relatives.

You take hunter's safety courses before you are allowed to become a hunter. You do not EVER pair guns with mind-altering substances such as alcohol or drugs. (Oh, and in case you haven't noticed, an automatic weapon is NOT a sporting arm; it's made for one purpose and one purpose only: killing people, lots of them, very efficiently and quickly.)

So now you know who I am, at least in regard to two things that matter a lot around here: Jesus and guns. (Though I have to say I wish some people got as excited about their Jesus as they do about their guns.)

And I call bullshit on the chief argument that paralyzes us and keeps us from meaningful action: that there are only two ways of moving forward, to ban ALL guns, or to allow every Tom, Dick, and Harry to own any kind of gun they want, with any level of fire power they want, spewing any number of bullets they want, for any purpose they want under the sun. I. Call. Bullshit. There IS middle ground. We can find it together.

Are you a politician telling me that now is (again) not the right time to discuss it, or that it's such a complicated issue that you don't have any good ideas to bring forward about how to make things better? Are you a politician who accepts a bucket load of money from the NRA and the gun lobby in America such that they have bought your silence, when it is time to speak out?

I am writing your names down, and I am remembering all of the stupid and mean and tasteless things you've said and done. In November, at the polls, I'll put my thoughts and prayers into action. I will help vote you out.

Maybe there will be someone on the ballot who DOES have some good ideas, who IS willing to speak out in favor of common-sense changes that will mean that no more of our innocent children will die at the hands of gun-toting madmen.

So do not speak the name of the person who did this evil act. Neither do you let your anger and your feelings of despair and helplessness keep you from action. Do not let the passing of time cool the jets of your righteous indignation and your fury. Put it to work. Remember. Vote.

There is a favorite piece that I read when I am feeling despair, and I'll link to it here. It's by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, it's called We Were Made for These Times, and here is a favorite quote from it:

"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale."

If you need ongoing motivation to act, look at the faces of those who were killed in Parkland and speak THEIR names, most of them little children who should have had their entire lives ahead of them. But all of that was stolen from them - ripped away - on a Valentine's Day afternoon, by a shooter with a gun.

"My heart is broken into pieces. I will forever remember you my sweet angel." These are the words of the mother of Gina Montalto, a little girl who was killed in the shooting, whose mortal remains were laid to rest on this day.

This posting is for all of the angels who lost their lives in Parkland, Florida. We will honor you by remembering you. We will honor you by acting to bring about change.

The soundtrack: Jane Siberry and k.d. lang, with Calling All Angels.

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