We were well into the second hour of speeches, videos and performances, when the last of the March For Our Lives speaker, Emma Gonzalez, walked onto the stage.
She started her speech like all of the other eloquent teens who had addressed the crowd before her: impassioned, fierce, heartbroken.
“No one could comprehend the devastating aftermath or how far this reach or where this could go,” she said.
She read the victims’ names. And then, without explanation, Emma went silent. She stood there, in front of 500,000 people, alone and quiet. Minutes slowly passed and still she said nothing. The crowd tried to rally her with chants and shouts of encouragement. They wanted to help her. They wanted to end the awkwardness of it. They wanted to move on. But Emma was unmoved.
Standing there in total silence, Emma made us feel her pain. She made us imagine her trauma. She made us connect to her suffering.
Emma demanded that we stay with her and not look away. And in that moment, 500,000 people became one.
This is The Big Solution. This is How It Works. It does not have to be our pain. It does not have to be our child. It does not have to be our disease or neighborhood or wound for us to feel it, imagine it and connect to it. It does not have to be US for it to need OUR attention, love and empathy.
“Othering” – ignoring, diminishing, shaming, distancing ourselves from others and from our true selves – is killing us as assuredly as if it were an AR-style rifle. It is what keeps us siloed and silent. Emma and her classmates created a moment – live on international TV – where we could not reach for our phone or our wine glass to remove ourselves from the uncomfortable moment. Instead, she insisted we stay present, stay engaged, stay open. And in doing so, she showed us the only way we can solve our problems and heal our world.
Her timer went off. Her point was made. After a few more remarks, Emma ended her speech with a warning, a lesson, a reminder: “Fight for your life before it’s somebody else’s job.”
Wake up, my friends. Wake up and remember yourself. Wake up and become one.