Gun control, health care, and tragedy prevention discussions have been sweeping the nation. They have been partly fascinating and partly disheartening to watch. It is captivating to read the well thought-out, good, valid arguments that proponents on both sides are making. The fact that people are lobbying for a solution that their conscience dictates is a wonderful sign that there are good people everywhere who care about their communities and the safety of their families. However, the way that we are arguing with and belittling each other is extremely disheartening. In the same breath that we condemn the “monsters” who perpetrated these tragedies, we are behaving monstrously towards others simply because they are on the other side of a political ideation.
The good that religion has done in my life can be consolidated in the Golden Rule. In Matthew 7:12, Christ Himself may have suggested that the Golden Rule is a catch-all when He said “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” I submit that this is the answer to the arguments which are circulating forums and heating our homes. When we treat someone the way that we would most want to be treated, we follow our conscience and listen respectfully to the honest thoughts and opinions of others. We stop and kneel at the side of the stranger left beaten at the side of the road and offer him food and shelter. We take the “outsider,” the “other” by the hand, encourage them, praise them, and are often surprised to learn that they return the favor when we find ourselves cast in the category of “other.”
A brief summary of my experience the day that there was a shooting at Columbine High School: At lunchtime, after finding a seat with my friends in the cafeteria, we were alerted to the presence of gunmen by Coach Dave Sanders. Coach Sanders was my older sister’s very caring and compassionate basketball coach. Shortly after Coach Sanders focused our attention on the situation at hand, everyone in the cafeteria and I got up and ran for safety. I found refuge in a science classroom, where a sophomore class was being held. The teacher shepherded us to the safest area of the classroom. We had just gotten settled when Coach Sanders entered the room, and collapsed from his two gunshot wounds through the chest. We spent the next several hours trapped in the classroom, watching as two Eagle Scouts pressed t-shirts and fire blankets to Coach Sanders’ wounds. Eventually, our room was evacuated by members of the S.W.A.T. team, and I was able to be reunited with my family. Days later, I found out the devastating news that Coach Sanders had passed away in the arms of a S.W.A.T. team member.
Though my experience was intensely traumatic and left emotional, psychological and physical scars, those same scars fade more and more every year. Even in the middle of my experience, there were many glimmers of hope. I was able to witness the miraculous power that being inclusive and reaching out to others brought. While we were trapped in the science classroom, a small group of teachers entered the room from a side door. One of these teachers, Mrs. Wyatt, took the time to take the hands of individual students into her hands, asked them questions about how they were and quietly, thoughtfully listened to their responses. It was a seemingly small act, and even though I was not one of the students who she had the chance to reach out to, it meant the world to me to witness it. When we were liberated from the room, we had to pass through the cafeteria. The ground in front of the entrance to the door which we were to exit was covered in glass from a nearby broken window. Many of the students had run from the shooters so quickly that their shoes had fallen off on the way. A girl who was a few people behind me was one of those that had lost her shoes. Mrs. Wyatt, that same teacher, effortlessly scooped this girl into her arms and carried her across the broken glass. The girl didn’t ask. She didn’t have to. Mrs. Wyatt simply did what she knew to be right and good.
In the midst of a war zone, Mrs. Wyatt rose as a hero. It’s possible that her acts of kindness were only remembered by me, but the fact is that they are remembered by me. In fact, they are cherished by me. In the midst of an unimaginable nightmare, I feel like I was able to see an angel masquerading as a human in the very room where I was. Her acts were simple. She saw a need and she filled it. Are there needs that we could fill in the hearts of those around us? Can we overcome our own monsters within, and so with it overcome the temptation to exclude others? Though our individual acts of inclusion and kindness may be small, though they may be seen as negligible, it is my direct experience that many of these small kindnesses touch hearts through the years, filling them with hope and with the desire to bless others in a similar way.
How should gun control be addressed? What should we do about healthcare as we move forward? Those are questions for us as individuals to explore, research and answer. On our journey towards making the world a better place, we need to make sure that we ourselves do not become the monster that we accuse others of being. There is a song in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame which I have reflected on repeatedly over the past few months. One of the lines poses the question: “Who is the monster and who is the man?” Some may conclude that the villain was the monster and the hero, Quasimoto, was the man. My answer is that they’re both men. One chose to behave in an unacceptable, monstrous fashion, but he is still a man. Did he need to be stopped? Absolutely. Do we know the contributing factors that lead up to his atrocious choices? No we do not. We, as human beings, have been given a powerful salve that we may use as we endeavor to try to mend all broken hearts. I assert my belief that tragedy prevention and other issues of the day fall under the umbrella of the Golden Rule. As more and more people truly treat others the way they themselves would love to be treated, more hearts will be mended, more families will be able to resolve their differences, and more people will choose lives of beauty and service over acts of anger and violence towards themselves or others.