I wrote the first half of a song called "17" the day of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. There were 17 victims. I couldn’t go any further because I was too distraught to get through it.
I finally finished it last night during my godsons’ high school graduation ceremony as I stared out onto the football field at the hundreds of deserving seniors receiving their diplomas. Although it was a joyful event and I was beyond proud of both my boys, the songwriter and mother in me couldn’t help but take a few minutes to put myself in the shoes of the parents who had this same beautiful moment stolen.
If you’re out on that field, go forth into the world. Do your best. Do it for yourself. Do it for a classmate who didn’t get to finish what they started.
And if it’s your child who’s out there, congratulations! Well done. After all, from the moment they’re born we’re teaching them how to live without us. Now we get the chance to watch them actually do it.
When my daughter graduated from high school I was mixed emotionally. As thrilled as I was about her rite of passage I also shared her trepidations about going to a college so far away. She was nervous. Who would her new friends be? Would she make some? When we moved her into the dorm her room was small. I mean SMALL.
Back home her bedroom felt emptier than it used to when she slept at a friend’s. The house was quieter. The calls were daily. Dramatic. Anxiety-ridden.
I missed her terribly but at least I got her back on holidays. Then she started coming home less and less. This year she didn’t come home for the summer! All of a sudden there’s talk of living on the other coast after senior year.
Well, she’s doing it. She’s living without me. I’ve heard it called a “successful launch.” I never liked it put that way. They're people not rocket ships. But now I get it.
All things considered, no matter where she lives in the universe, I'll always be here to talk her through a misunderstanding with a friend or sort out a passport left in the seat pocket of a plane that has since departed for another destination. I can still remind her to look both ways when crossing a street and to blow out the candle before she falls asleep.
The parents of the Stoneman Douglas High School students would welcome the burning candles, sorting out of daily dilemmas and the heavy-heart of only distance separating them from their child.
It’s all relative though, right? We have the right to gripe about bad service in a restaurant. Traffic. Humidity. But I can only imagine that when you lose a child nothing else is as dire as it seemed the day before. A broken nail, political chaos, a kidney transplant.
I’m blessed. My empty nest has given way to a second wave of self discovery. But make no mistake: I think about those parents in the middle of many-a-day, at the market, unloading the dishwasher, pumping gas...and I lose it. I wonder how they can get out of bed in the morning or keep their composure in front of news cameras. That's a strength I hope I never have to find. Their ghost is one that will haunt them forever.
I want them to know that I know this. Not that it will make their loss any more bearable.
I’m a songwriter. I write not just for the pop star who might deliver me a hit. That’s all well and good. Sometimes I do it just for myself. For my own personal therapy. The way it all started.
This song is for the parents of any child who lost their life to a bullet in a classroom. God help us there are so many more than 17.