If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. – Mother Teresa

Last evening I participated in a memorial walk to honor five, locaDebra_B- Main St march 6-29-18l journalists who had been killed the previous day by an angry man with a shotgun. The senseless violence and inexplicable grief of which I’d read in countless articles, had now come to my town, to me and my friends.

We stood – perhaps 1,000 people, silent, dumbfounded by the helplessness and fear that washed over us.

The beautiful summer’s evening with a butter-yellow moon bathing us in its golden light contrasted with the tears and hollow stares of mourners, young and old, from all walks of life, and varied ethnic backgrounds. Leaders from city government and religious organizations offered their thoughts. A slip-of-a-girl in her tartan kilt played “Amazing Grace” on her bagpipes; candles flickered in the warm breeze. Our mayor, Gavin Buckley spoke to the gathered mourners, “The senseless killings are not us; this is us.”

But, I couldn’t help thinking, “No, the killings and violence, as well as the empathy and regret are us. We are the man with the weapons aiming down into a crowd of concert-goers. We are the adolescent boys in long trench coats with guns as big as they are, shooting children cowering in corners. And we are the teachers shielding our students with our own bodies.”

Michael Jackson sang in my head, “I want you to know / I’m starting with the man in the mirror / I’m asking him to change his ways / If you want to make the world a better place / Take a look at yourself, and then make a change…

What am I doing with my candle and tears? Am I protecting the children, making sure they are safe, so they need not fear the opening of their classroom door, or the bang of a chair falling in the hallway? Am I speaking out for the young people whose lives are over and those left behind to grieve for them?

I see myself mirrored in the gray-haired men and women shuffling along with me. We carry signs, candles, heavy hearts. What are we thinking? I remember the marches against the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights actions, bus rides and sit-ins and National Guardsmen arrayed against college students in bellbottoms, and Guardian Angels in red berets.

What has changed in my country, besides my graying hair? Have I spent 30 years in high school classrooms, teaching young people to recognize Macbeth’s all-consuming will to power, asking students to feel the gut-wrenching fear as Elie Wiesel, a small boy, marches to the concentration camp. What did my young journalists learn as we put together stories of high school proms and science projects? Do they fight today to protect the Fourth Estate?

Did I teach my students to recognize the fragility of all we hold dear – life itself, freedom from fear of intimidation, the rights to vote and to receive an education? Did I teach them to appreciate the sacrifices made by their forbearers?

What has my country come to after 50 years? Have I failed to make a difference? Could I have done more to insure that my students would mature into wise men and women capable of identifying truth from falsehood, integrity from duplicity, courage from intimidation?

I looked around me as we walked silently down Main Street. Young parents with small children in strollers, teens holding hands and leaning into one another for comfort. What will they do to protect and defend this nation? Do they weep and then return to their busy lives?

How ironic that we are preparing to celebrate Independence Day and all the immigrants who came here, to Maryland and beyond, to build a new and better life for themselves and their children. We celebrate the Constitution, “with liberty and justice for all,” but is there less justice? Are our liberties being eroded?

Those five, murdered journalists gave their lives writing for the Capital Gazette newspaper that traces its founding to 1727.  Will we protect the free press, the franchise, the immigrant?

My candle sputtered. The wax burned my skin, and that slight discomfort stirred me. I recalled Mother Teresa’s wise counsel, “Not all of us do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

I will go on marching, signing petitions, making phone calls, and teaching, I hope, by example. I will make what small difference  can in this dark time.

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

– Mother Teresa

Photo: Debra Book Barrows

 

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About J. F. Booth

I am a writer and educator.
This entry was posted in Life Lessons, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. – Mother Teresa

  1. jo dallas says:

    Thank you , Jan for sharing the moving account of the memorial walk & insight into the wounds of our society. Like Leonard Cohen sang “there is a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in” Even when we are feeling our lowest point of discouragement an article appears like I just read by you & I feel a little more hopeful about our country’s future . Comments by others also are encouraging that there are many more good, honest & concerned citizens out there , jo

  2. SHELLY PERKINS (CAVE) says:

    As one of your former English students who read Macbeth learned an appreciation of poetry and saw how you inspired the lives of the young women you touched to be strong.independent free thinking powerful women with voices say this, ” You made a difference!” I was inspired to use my voice to advocate for domestic abuse ,disability rights, the right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, our right to bear arms, age and gender equality, and healthcare. The once small shy gangly teen who sat in your classroom grew to become the squeaky wheel who brought attention to many of society’s issues bending the ear of many an individual that would listen. I heard the hand of the elderly as they took their last breath listening.to living history of those who were there at many a controversial historical event. My mother also a very strong voice encouraging me to be independent and be a force to be reckoned with. I often look back at those formative years and think fondly of those strong women with whom you were in good company with and thank God for all of your presence in my life. I was very fortunate to have been taught by all of you. From Grade school to graduation I was blessed with a wonderful education full of a thirst for knowledge and a great appreciation for the arts. I went on to pursue a degree in paralegal studies and began a degree in nursing which later resulted in my current employment. I was working at a large cardiology office on the day you mentioned that a clearly mentally disturbed man gained entry into the news paper offices and began shooting. 5 lives were cut short in a brief moment in time. When the word hit our office we secured the office moved patients to inside rooms and ran from room to room closing blinds. As the rest of my colleagues and I sat in our stations we endured family members we were safe and watched live news feeds to stay informed in case there was a second shooter. I was very real. But I cannot blame an inanimate object for this incident. In every case you started there is one.other contributing factor. The shooter had been mentally unstable. Gone are the days of sanitoriums and lebotomys. A shell of crownsville mental institution stands just miles away from where this incident occurred. Our streets are filled with homeless who cannot get the mental health services they need to be productive functioning members of society. Some resulting in self medicating contributing to our state’s substance abuse epidemic. Clinics that are meant to serve these individuals are broken and underfunded. And our government turns a blind eye to it. They are too consumed with their parts agenda than “We the people!” They would rather write empty Bill’s that don’t address the real issue than solve the problem. A gun cannot kill without someone loading it and pulling the trigger. So the question remains ” If the gunman in this week’s shooting was known to be mentally unstable with violent tendencies and had made threats to this paper in the past, Why was he not flagged on the registry and banned from buying a gun?” Isn’t that the.purpose of having background checks for purchase in the first place? So who failed to report or do a thorough background check? And why does it still keep happening.” I don’t think that word have stopped him though he would have.ound another way.

  3. Meg Robinson says:

    Beautifully written, Jan. I was shocked that this happened in our beloved Annapolis. Violence seems misplaced in this lovely and congenial city. It drives home the point that it can happen anywhere. A sad day to be sure.

  4. nlg49@charter.net says:

    Great work!! Very thought provoking and moving. My heart is breaking for the fall of our country.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Jan, you always bring a candle – lit, of course! Thank you for describing the memorial walk and sharing your reflections. Your thoughtful writing reminds me that I have a candle too.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Jan, you always bring a candle – lit, of course! Thank you for describing the memorial walk and sharing your reflections. Your thoughtful writing reminds me that I have a candle too.

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