This is No. 2 in The Motherhood Letters, a new monthly feature by author Jessica Rios. Rooted in universal themes of motherhood, Jess shares the essence of her unique art of mothering through letter writing. You can learn more about Jess and her work in the author box below.
Dear Stoneman Douglas High School Students,
Last week your world caved in on you as a highly disturbed classmate who had been expelled, killed 17 students at your Florida school. The horror most of you had only ever seen on TV became real, fast, as you watched blood spill from your classmates' bodies onto the floor. Our nation was in shock, as any alert mind is not numb to the madness you witnessed. Yet we’re also, quite unfortunately, used to it.
In the days that followed and still, the new norm for American teachers, students and the parents who send their kids off to school is: Fear. A place to play and learn has become a horror movie.
Most of you don’t have children yet so this might sound crazy, and I’ll say it anyway. I speak my truth in life. All the children in the world are my own. No they weren’t born from my womb, but they’re all my responsibility. Creating a world that honors children and keeps you safe, is my responsibility.
I cannot do it alone. You cannot do it alone.
You stood, grief and outrage in your trembling voices, delivering eloquent words into microphones within days of the shooting.
What is beautiful about all this? You’re being well supported. Your messages were on point. The adults in your midst are looking out for you. I can hear it and feel it, and that makes me proud.I served on student government in high school and college. Not all American “grown up” citizens are emotionally adolescent and dishonest, like the politicians accepting money from the NRA, a group that facilitates murder. You called that out. Then you called it out again. You’re not afraid, after all, because what’s the alternative to speaking out like you are? It’s death. You know that now. Life is courage or nothing at all. And you’ve got people standing beside you to help you keep your voice strong, clear and energized.
Clarity is key in a movement like the one you’re building. Your world has been scarred by gun violence and you’ve got clarity booming from your souls, that it must end. Keep that vision strong. Your voices are laying forth a future where today’s kindergarteners will reside.
Sweet babies — and like it or not you will always be your mamas’ babies — I am sorry.
Humans are messy and although many of us have voted for a loving world one election after another, voting too with our own daily thoughts, actions and words, none of us is ethically pristine. As a collective adulthood, there are ways we have failed you. Just the other day, I was 20 years old speaking out for social justice, and now I’m 42 and I get to apologize because my taxes, too, have gone to kill other children in faraway countries where ours has waged war. It is despicable and unjustified. Maybe you already see this or maybe that’s up next in your luminous path to create a world that’s more sane.
Please, I do beg of you, keep calling it out. Keep calling out the insanity and deceit you see among people in leadership positions who are supposed to represent us, the people, and to deliver our children a future as bright as your eyes.
Keep your own bar high, too. Ask friends to call out your deceit, ask them to check in when you seem estranged from the beauty of your own soul. We must be our own leaders. We can elect respectable people, but we cannot expect anyone to create the world we want, for us.
When your inner fire grows dim, when you grow tired, rest and let your pillow remember the souls whose lives were taken on that awful day.
And I ask that you also remember the shooter, for while you may hold him in a hateful place for the atrocity at his fingertips, I tell you that he did it from a place far more broken than I hope any of you ever have to feel. He did not do it alone. He did it with the support of all the politicians and groups you are naming. He did it with the support of (intentional lowercase) president Trump, an individual as broken in mind and heart as any I’ve ever seen.
Thank you for planting seeds for safety in schools, integrity in politics, legislation that cares for children, and a humanity without fear of speaking the truth.
I’ll work in your garden, I’ll water your seeds.
As your garden partner, I ask that you keep seeds of hatred out of our soil. Roar out all those tears so they carve a canyon inside of you where there is more space for Love. I do not ask you to forget what happened or to deny what that young man did. I do call you forth to find a way to forgive that young man, to try and accept the deeper essence of what happened, so that you are growing a future with less blame and anger — both of which fuel the kind of horror you just lived through. Open your heart with compassion to the fact that self-hatred is the cause of what he did. Will you add pain to pain? Or will you do as Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others have asked, and add Love?
Thank you for your voices. Thank you for bringing your powerful emotions to the microphone. Never "check them at the door" like many of us have been advised to do. Feelings are powerful; being numb is what the status quo would like.
My daughter is almost five. I ask you, please choose Love.
You've got this!