Last week, many of the middle and high school students in my local school district chose to walk out of class to ask for a reconsideration of the way that we handle guns and school safety. They’re a part of a larger national movement, but the schools here are closed for Spring Break during that walkout, so students here organized their own.
My daughter asked to participate, so I called the school and excused her from class1 so she could walk out and march from the school to downtown where students from all over the town gathered to wave signs, chant, and be together.
Because my daughter is 13, I thought it would be worthwhile to accompany her, not too close, but close enough that I could feel comfortable with her being downtown in a large group of other students and the potential counterprotestors I’d heard a little about.
I’m at a place in my life where it’s easy to forget what it means to be a citizen in the world right now. I lose track too often that we have to practice the things we want and expect and need for our country, and each other, to be. Sometimes, we’re strong and brave and true, but we’re almost never those things right out of the gate. We have to pretend to be them until we realize that we are them, or at least until we’re pretending well enough to pass. And things like being strong and brave and true take time to master. But all three of those attributes are muscles that atrophy through inattention and disuse. All are hard to do and be.
So we’ve got to practice.
The night before the walkout, I promised not to hover. And I didn’t.2
It was a powerful event. The square was more full than I’d ever seen it, with students filling every inch of space available, save for the 8 foot buffer around the open businesses patrolled by a few vest-wearing volunteers. It was peaceful, too, with a mixture of chants and moments of silence and reflection. And some children being children.
There were counterprotestors. I counted less than ten, all together, waving flags and moving around the square. ((I wonder why fewer students in the walkout carried the US flag as they marched. There’s certainly no reason to not be proud of the students’ 1st Amendment rights while they’re struggling with our 2nd Amendment ones.)) Most students didn’t know what to do with the counter protestors, so they did what I wish more adults would do when faced with opposing views – they quietly watched and, for the most part, ignored them. Sometimes, our instincts about such things are right on.
I don’t know my daughter understood exactly what she was doing there. She knew her friends were there, and they made signs together, and they talked about being afraid and wanting to stand up. “We’ve got to be heard,” she told me at one point. She thought it was important. But they also talked about making sure to grab a late lunch downtown. So there was some social in the action, for certain.
Whatever her reasons, I was glad to see her there, and to watch as she and other students from around town came together, not so much with answers, but with concerns and a desire to express them. She was standing up, even in the middle of so many other students, and being brave, in a way.
I was reminded by a friend recently of the power of being strong and brave and true. She’s learning to tell her own stories3, and along the way to exploring one to tell, Katie pointed out to me that bravery isn’t a thing that you go looking for outside yourself, because bravery is neither created nor destroyed.
“Bravery exists already in each of us. But it is in a different form. It might not be bravery yet. But it’s there,” she said.
That’s good to remember.
I say that’s true, but you’ve also gotta exercise your bravery on a regular basis so that you can access it when you need it. That’s how the bravery that isn’t quite bravery becomes what you need when you need it.
What my daughter and the others were doing was flexing their bravery muscles. They were doing strength and truth exercises. These things matter.
It’s easy for me to forget, in the humdrum of spreadsheets and TPS reports and invoices and administrivia, that there are real fights to fight, and real struggles of the head and heart and hands that require my, and many others’ attention. As an almost forty-year-old white guy with way more privilege than I should have, my engine fires differently than it used to. And I get to have the privilege to shut down the outside world4 when it’s convienient. That’s not so good. That’s how I lose my way.
Important stuff atrophies. To that, I humbly say: “No, thank you.”
I hope you’re finding ways, even really little ways, to practice being brave and strong and true. Not only will they make the world a better place – but they’ll make you stronger for the next struggle that’ll need the best you can bring.
I suspect we all need you ready for whatever’s ahead.
- As that’s a very reasonable way to protest. [↩]
- There were far too many people there for me to hover closely, and, to the event’s credit, it was led by students and for students. Us grown ups were supporting from the sidelines. I might’ve hovered from a distance. [↩]
- Aren’t we all? [↩]
- And sometimes, my inside one. [↩]