On this evening as I gather my thoughts, I look in two directions with utter astonishment.
First, my daughter Ellie has been upstairs crashing after her first overnight school event. How can this be? Of course she’s been away from us overnight before, but this was the first big overnight field trip. The students went to the science museum for their very own Night at the Museum experience. How can this be? My little girl!
My goodness, the preparation! The right sleeping bag. Who will she sit next to on the bus? Packing three books even though we all knew she wouldn’t read them because she would be too busy chatting. And which dinosaur would she sleep under?
Ellie really owned this excursion. She wanted to define her own experience. Being mindful not to offend any of her friends or fellow students, nevertheless she wanted to pack into the experience everything she wanted it to be. The clarity was admirable, and it makes a father’s chest burst with pride to see a child’s maturity growing to the next level, just as it should.
And it all went splendidly. No sleep, of course. I’m not sure what the sleeping bags were meant for.
As I watched Ellie fall into bed to recover, I thought of how she is just five years younger than some other students also doing astonishing, admirable things for the first time and also demonstrating increasing levels of maturity.
The voices of Parkland. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They also are owning the message and defining their experience. They’re taking on responsibility no one could ever have wanted them to have to take on before they even held high school diplomas in their hands. They’ve been through something horrendous, and now they are looking the monster square in the eye and choosing what the experience will mean for them and those who come after them.
Some argue that they’re just traumatized kids who shouldn’t be telling adult politicians what to do. They don’t know enough. They’re not wise enough. I disagree. They do know what it’s like to survive a school shooting, and that is valuable knowledge. We should not diminish knowledge of any experience. Rather, it should drive us to ask more questions, to understand the stories more deeply.
In the world of service, we hear often that we must really listen to the customer and their experience, and then we will provide a better service. In mental health services, we certainly strive for excellence in listening.
Culturally, we subscribe to the idea that experience and youth are counterintuitive, that youth have little to teach us. The young people of Parkland show this is not true. They speak with clarity and courage not just of their own narrative but the readiness of a generation for change and, indeed, a global experience.
I have profound admiration and deep respect for them. They help guide us toward a new way of seeing the experience of others and offer new insight into what knowledge is. And when I think that my own daughter, learning even now to define the meaning of her experiences, is just five years behind these Parkland students, I know that her doddering father still has a great deal to learn.
And if I know Ellie, she will be only too glad to teach me.