by Zarna Patel
I cannot find the right words to describe how it felt when I read news: “School shooting at High School in Southeastern Florida.” Despite the 239 school shootings since Sandy Hook, nothing can prepare you for the numbness of having it happen in your hometown. The way your heart leaps into your throat, the way all sound is muted, the way debilitating fear takes hold from your head to your toes.
“Are you OK? Tell me you’re OK?! Please answer me!” Never in a million years did I think I would have to send a text like that to my 16-year-old cousin, whose biggest worry last weekend was her upcoming SAT test.
Knowing how many innocent children would never return to their parent’s arms that night was paralyzing. I couldn’t close my eyes for more than a few minutes before flashes of my old high school haunted my dreams. The large courtyard we ate lunch in, smeared in blood. The freshman building we loved to hate, filled with kids running away, hand raised. The large auditorium where I spent four years performing, now filled with the cries of distraught children.
Stoneman Douglas is a special school. It’s where I found my passion for the written word and my fascination with the human body. The teachers forced us to question the status quo, to dig deeper into history, society and humanity in order to come up with our own viewpoints and ultimately, be able to defend them. The students don’t accept what we find to be subpar. When we learned the school did not recycle, we stayed after school to go to every single classroom to collect recycling bins. Marjory Stoneman Douglas is not a place of complacency. It is a school of excellence. It is a place of action. It is a place of passion. Our students truly embody our motto: Be Positive. Be Passionate. Be Proud to be an Eagle.
Fourteen children died that day. Fourteen children who will never get to hug their parents again, never get to throw their graduation caps in the air, may never get a first kiss. Fourteen children too many. Fourteen children gone too soon. How can we sit idly by when these children were robbed of decades? How can we, once again, turn 17 deaths into yesterday’s news as families mourn their loved ones?
The loud cries of the survivors still echo in my conscience. The adults have failed them. Sandy Hook happened 6 years ago, and 20 innocent first-graders were taken. And we did nothing. We have become so desensitized to how many children die every day from shootings, that we have become complacent. However, for these children looked up to us to get things done. And we failed them. Shame on us for leaving kids with no choice but to beg for their own lives.
We need to pray that we find the strength within ourselves to understand that we have let this happen to our children. We need to pray that God give us the courage to be better. Fredrick Douglass once said, “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” When 7 year old children are dying at the hands of guns and we use a piece of paper written 246 years ago to justify our inertia, we need prayers. Because we no longer have a political problem, we have an undeniable, gut-wrenching, morality problem.
As healthcare professionals and educators, we are in a unique position to affect change. Gun violence has become a deeply embedded public health issue – pervading our emergency departments and our classrooms both. It is time for our community to use our weight, our professional clout, our access to the future generations of America, and join the voices that have been clamoring for help for years. We must advocate to research gun violence in this country. We must inspire our students to think critically and challenge the status quo, stand up for what is right. We must use our connections to lend support to the hundreds of community-led organizations, namely by people of color and those directly affected by gun violence, and aid them in their decades long fight to have their grievances heard. It is time.
My hometown is a sleepy little place. The nights are quiet. You can drive through the town in 10 minutes and not even know you were in a whole different city. Now, Parkland is known around the world. Not for being sleepy, but for being awake. Not for being quiet, but being very very loud. Not for being small, but for starting a movement bigger than us all.
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas are ready to enact change. 11,000+ alumni are ready to make sure no parent has to send a text asking if their child is still alive. Are you?
Zarna Patel is a third-year medical student at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and an alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Class of 2011). She will be attending the Chicago March for Our Lives on March 24 and encourages you to support this action at a location near you.