One Year After Parkland, My Hurt Turns To Hope

t’s one of those “you’ll always remember where you were when you heard the news” type of memories.

The vivid, crisp, sends-chills-down-your-spine kind.

2:46 p.m. — the exact minute I found out what happened in my hometown — dramatically changed the course of my life. It still feels like yesterday.

Feb. 14 marks one year since a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Six minutes took 17 lives.

They were teachers, coaches, dancers, swimmers, soccer players, National Merit Scholar semifinalists, members of the marching band and JROTC cadets. They were seniors preparing for prom and graduation and college acceptances. They were freshman excited for the years ahead.

They were people.

A rainbow appears over Marjory Stoneman Douglas High

A rainbow appears over Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, the morning all staff return for planning days to prepare for the students' return Wednesday. (Photo: Olivia Vanni/Naples Daily News)

It’s still difficult to comprehend the gravity of their loss and how something like this occurred in a place I considered so safe. It’s even harder to hear about how those six minutes could have been prevented.

I wrotethe column the day after the shooting a year ago. I gave readers insight into just how unique my hometown was because I wanted people to understand it from the outside looking in. 

In it, I wrote “If I know anything about the Coral Springs and Parkland community, I know that we can work to make a positive change out of this.”

I had no idea then what a force we would become.

Students rallied for change and marched for their lives. Teachers showed strength and courage as they learned to navigate teaching students who had seen the worst. Grieving families fought for those they lost.Mothers became school board members. Fathers became advocates and activists.

I’m forever in awe of the strength and resilience of those who lost so much this year.

They stood up. They spoke out. And they aren't done yet.

The point of this column isn’t to dwell on what happened last year, though. It’s to serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come and what we’ve learned as humans, no matter where we're from.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas students along with alumni

Since that day last February, I’ve covered more shootings as a journalist than I can count.

After Parkland? Santa Fe High School. After Santa Fe? The Capital Gazette. After the Capital Gazette? Jacksonville. After Jacksonville? Pittsburgh. After Pittsburgh? Thousand Oaks. After Thousand Oaks? Sebring?

The list goes on.

When news breaks for each of these tragedies or when there’s a gut-wrenching update on Parkland, I’m transported back to 2:46 p.m.

It feels eerily similar every time. I’ve relied on long-time journalists to give me advice on separating my personal life from the stories I work on every day. They call it compartmentalizing. It’s been difficult.

Journalism is tough, man.

Images from the March For Our Lives rally in Washington

But here’s the thing; it doesn’t matter that I work in a field where it’s my job to read and write these stories. Gun violence does not discriminate. We’re all affected in our own ways. It’s important to recognize that.

I’d like to believe Feb. 14 made me stronger. Watching a community come together to lift each other during an unimaginable situation is nothing short of breathtaking and inspiring.

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s to ask people how they’re doing, to consistently be present and to live a life filled with purpose.

It’s simple to get wrapped up in our own jobs, our own lives and our own problems without asking others about how they’re doing and how you can help.

On Feb. 14, ask someone how they’re doing. Then, ask yourself how you’re doing and continue to do that every day with intention.

Be kind. Give back. Read a book. Go for a run. Clear your mind. Plan that trip you’ve been thinking about. Buy tickets to that concert. Remind people how much you love them, even if you think they’re tired of hearing it. Life is so incredibly short.

We've come so far this year, and although we can’t change what happened, we can find the resolve to move forward and honor the thousands we’ve lost with our voices, our passion and our votes. We have so much more work to do.

We cannot be afraid to enjoy life after senseless acts occur. We need to fight for those lost because of senseless acts. 

It’s what Meadow and Jaime and Nicholas and Martin and Alyssa and Aaron and Scott and Chris and Helena and Cara and Luke and Gina and Joaquin and Alaina and Alex and Peter and Carmen would want.

It’s what they deserve.

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