Someone once said to me that it was sad I never had children, being single all my life. I remember saying that I had and that for 20 years I worked with some 500 teenagers every day at the high school where I was a teacher. I encouraged them, laughed with them, disciplined them, and tried to teach them some things about loving books and reading and an understanding of the importance of history. Sometimes I still miss not being a part of their accomplishments and those moments when just being a teen-ager meant silliness in the middle of frustrations. That was over 20 years ago and as I look at the world of teenagers today I think it is much more difficult and troubling for them.
That is why I have been so proud of the young people marching throughout the country in these days, speaking out against violence in our schools. How frightening it must be to go to school and deal with bullying, drugs, gangs, and now the worst of all — gun violence. The voices I have heard, young men and women, are impressive through their thoughtful words and determination that this has to stop and if no one else will, they are the ones who will change the conversation and push law-making bodies to do something positive about this national tragedy. I truly would march with them if I could.
It is important we give young people a safe place and encouragement to speak their minds. That should be the market place of ideas in a free and open American society. In order to ensure solid citizens for the future of this country we need to teach young people how to use freedom of speech, and how to express their ideas in a strong and powerful manner. Some of the speeches I have heard from these kids are stunning — they know how to get their message across and they do not stutter and stammer around like some politicians I hear. They know the righteousness of their cause while the politicians are afraid of losing NRA monies and support by those who cannot see that this is a time for change.
I am a child of the 60s and I remember marches against the Vietnam War and the Freedom Marches for Civil Rights. I grew up in an age when there were many issues which had to be faced and sometimes the only way to get people to listen was marching in the streets. These marchers then and now are not alone. Throughout our history marches have been used to change peoples’ minds.
The Boston Massacre was a small gathering of protesters which grew into a violent confrontation; women have marched in the streets in the U.S. and Great Britain calling out for the right to vote and later for women’s rights in the face of great inequality. Many were arrested, imprisoned and beaten before the great day when the 20th amendment was finally passed in 1920. The Bonus Marches prior to World War II were attempts by veterans’ of the first war to call attention to the benefits that were due them which they had not received. People continue to use marches to draw attention to issues that require the nation to wake up, that there is work to be done to right some wrongs.
St. Francis of Assisi wrote a prayer that speaks to all people and every cause — Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Poverty, inequality and fear are all forms of violence. The prayer goes on to say, “Let me not seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.” These words are life changing because in all situations of violence the conversation has to be changed. It is not about me. To do anything good or decent in this world I have to do it for you, not me. This world will not be a better place for me and those I love to live, if I do not consider the need for love and for a safe place for those next door, down the street, or around the world.
Right now the words and actions of many people are trying to make a better life . The students are demanding the right to feel safe. The immigration/DACA issue is in stalemate; people with disabilities are being denied medicaid; the folks on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation at Lame Deer are still in desperate need of help after the heavy snows of winter. Without basic food and other necessities they will not be prepared for the floods which we know will come with melting snow. The Rohingya fleeing Myanmar are living in horrible refugee camps in Bangladesh. Driven out of their homes, they are facing the monsoon rains, massive flooding, famine, illness and death.
This life is not about me getting what I want or what I believe I am due. Life is not about me. Life is about those who need me.