Heroes show up in unexpected places—even funerals.
A few days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida I stood alongside a few hundred strangers in the parking lot of an inner city church here in Raleigh to honor 17 students and teachers who were killed. I wanted to be with people who were in mourning the way that I was mourning.
Such gatherings seem commonplace in these days. We came together to remember those who died, to grieve their premature passing, and to lament the violence that seems to only be escalating, to ask why we’re doing this again: burying people taken too soon—again.
Though was certainly a heaviness befitting the gravity of the moment, there was something else. The event had largely been planned by teenagers, and there was a palpable sense of defiant joy scrawled onto poster board signs they’d created, etched deeply into their brave smiles, and embedded in the warm embraces they greeted friends and strangers with.
As the memorial service began, 17 local students came to the microphone, each speaking the name of a fallen teenager or adult, and lighting a candle they would then carry close to their chests on the way to the nearby State Capitol ahead of the assembled crowd. As each person’s name was read, a dove was released into the evening sky; a visual prayer lifted in their memory.
A few moments earlier, a handful of young people (not adults) had stepped to the platform to speak words of encouragement to those gathered. They spoke prophetically and powerfully, and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck involuntarily rising and tears spill out onto my cheeks, because they were doing something beautiful in response to something so ugly—boldly affirming life in the face of senseless death.
One of the young speakers approached the microphone and said, “I am happy to be here today… I not happy because of why we gather. I am happy today because I came here for hope,” He slowly scanned the crowd and continued “—and here you are.”
This young man was right. We were there together, mining hope for one another. This is what people of faith, morality, and conscience do. We are the stewards of hope in times when that hope seems most vulnerable; like carriers of a small candle in a storm, we keep that hope close to our chests and protect it from the winds and the weather that threaten to snuff it out. We show up in the small space of our daily life, we give what we are able, and we remind others that all is not lost, that this is not the end of the story.
We all have this same potentially world-saving power.
On dispiriting days we need to do all we can to see people in distress and to keep trying to give them reason to keep going. We need to continue to speak and care and love and forgive, and do our work and raise our families and live well; to look into the eyes of strangers and to ask how they are and really want to know—because other people are watching us and counting on us. For someone else, either at close proximity or from a great distance, and in ways we may never realize—we might be the difference in the day.
Friend, at the end of your time here, the world will either be more or less kind, compassionate, generous, funny, creative, and loving because of your presence in it—it’s really that simple. You’ve been given a priceless gift here. You get to go wake up every morning, go into your living room and your neighborhood and your school and your city; a world filled with imperiled, exhausted people all waiting for someone to do something, and in ways you are solely wired and prepared to—you get to do something.
You know who you are, you know the beautiful arsenal at your disposal, you know the need and the stakes and the cost—and in the deepest recesses of your heart you know exactly the kind of people this place needs right now.
All that’s left is for you to do what you were specifically and precisely made to do in ways that no one else can: go and bring hope where people have forgotten what hope feels like.
Steady yourself, lift your head skyward—and save what you can.
Taken from my latest book, ‘Hope and Other Superpowers.’