A grieving community tries to come to grips with the loss of 17 precious lives. Mourners come together to honor the victims as sadness clutches the face of so many people trying to make sense of what has happened. As tears wash the pain and sorrow felt in so many hearts, behind those brave faces is a sense of fear and confusion after such a devastating event. Despite this horrific tragedy so many students demonstrated the best of humanity.
While thousands of mourners slowly gathered on that mild February day a group of eight high school students formed a tight circle. As people met each other with hugs and tears before Thursday’s vigil for the dead, eight students appealed to a higher being to save the souls they had just lost. They reflected on the sanctity of life. They held each other up just 24 hours after experiencing senseless evil. Shay Makonde, a junior at the high school led the group in prayer. His message was that we shall carry on for the lives that were lost. For Shay, the day after the shooting was not only about community, it had also presented the challenge of forgiveness.
Shay had to deal with his own trauma. The day before he led those prayers, Shay was in one of the hallways where Nikolaus Cruz, the 19-year-old suspect, opened fire on students. Shay pulled two of his classmates into a hallway during the shooting. What was most striking was that Shay heard Cruz laughing before he saw a third friend go down.
Notwithstanding what had happened Shay said that he cannot hate the shooter. Instead, Shay says he wants to focus on the people he still has in his life, and on honoring his lost friend’s life. Hatred, he said, only breeds more hatred and pain.
Even with the horrific nature of the attack other students also found a way forward through forgiveness. One student, Daniela Menescal who like others thought that a drill was taking place until the moment bullet fragments slammed into her back and leg. She hid behind a metal cabinet as gunfire sprayed the room. The girl in front of her was hit in the face, a bullet was lodged in her eye. Menescal survived and made it home bandaged with metal from the bullets still inside her. Despite all that happened to her that day she found it in her heart to forgive. When asked what message she wanted to get out it was forgiveness. “In the back of his mind, God is with him and I know that we all deserve a second chance, and that even for all that he caused, we forgive him. I forgive him,” Menescal said.
The killing of 17 people at the high school in Parkland, Fla., has yet to reveal much forgiveness toward the shooter. It is too early. People need time to recovery physically and emotionally. The anger over the murders, especially among Parkland students, is directed mainly at elected officials and the cause of controlling access to guns, especially assault rifles. That debate should not be deflected or weakened. Yet at the same time, the United States can tackle the issue of whether better qualities of care in society – including the role of forgiveness – might help prevent a similar shooting.
After the 2015 shooting that killed nine people in a Charleston, S.C., church, many in the predominantly African-American congregation forgave the young white male gunman. In doing so, they hoped not only to heal the hatred they felt but the hatred in him that motivated the crime. In addition, they hoped their forgiveness might enable them to better reach others prone to violence and perhaps prevent a similar massacre.
We may want to think about this and the role forgiveness can play in our society. With so much hatred and violence taking place changing mindsets can go a long way in healing the maladies we face. Forgiveness can break the cycles of violence and have a healing effect which our society so desperately needs.
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As always, I am interested in hearing about your experience and welcome all your comments, so please feel free to share your thoughts on this blog. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
For more information on learning how to forgive go to “Finding Forgiveness: A 7-Step Program for Letting Go of Anger and Bitterness” by Eileen R. Borris-Dunchunstang.