The Children Leading the Way, through the Desert

With a series of beautiful reflections, performances and presentations, John McKenna with Parkland Studentsspringtime ushers in – the season of change, rebirth and transformation. From the Together We Remember activities in Baltimore to the Conrad Summit in Florida, we were inspired by the “better angels” of our nature. Yet, there are timeless elements of our nature as well, that somehow never change, such as the expanse of certain landscapes and the behavior of our “not-so-better angels.”

Today I cross the wide Mojave Desert, traversing to Arizona. I am playing the Wake Up, America album, a slate of moving songs created by the youth from Parkland, Florida in the wake of the mass violence they experienced. Songs I have heard many times tug at the heart strings, and the tears flow freely – as they should.

The other day our nation buried Lori Kaye, a worshiper of Chabad of Poway in Southern California, not far from the border where our co-founder Peter Yarrow is performing on this day for homeless migrants. He plays and marches on with all nobility, as do the Parkland youth, as do family members of Lori. Mourning the passing of her own mother at Passover, Lori was on the horrific and mortal end of the most recent act of violence brought to a house of worship, perpetrated by another young man with an assault weapon influenced by hate speech. Attempting to shield the rabbi she was gunned down, perhaps saving the rabbi’s life. We are reminded what a kind and compassionate soul she was, having installed a peace pole on her property reading “May peace prevail on Earth.”

Little Noya Dahan, eight years young, catches shrapnel fragments in the synagogue.

“I knew that something was wrong because it wasn’t adding up to me, because I heard loud sounds,” Noya said. “It was very, very scary, and I’m not supposed to go through this stuff.”

Today more news, as two are struck down on a campus in North Carolina.

The desert rolls on for miles, but there are signs of life – insects in the air, the occasional flock of birds, reeds and brush in the breeze.

Was it just a few days ago Payton Francis and Sofia Rosenberg, both 15, brought hundreds of young leaders to their feet singing songs of resilience and change at the Kennedy Space Center? At KSC we are reminded of imagination and innovation on the grandest scale, welcoming the human race to reach into the heavens of discovery and the wonders beyond our lonely planet. An inspiring president led us there, before he, too, was a victim of gun violence here on Earth. I hear Payton and Sofia’s angelic voices and poignant words echoing in the chambers of the heart. They provide necessary permission to be sorrowful, with quiet reassurance above the uncertainty. They blow through the soul like the warm desert wind, with the window down for the song to carry over the dunes and beyond this horizon.

“Take my hand … We’ll be okay … The children will lead the way … “

There is another drifting echo in the heart coming from Noya, one no doubt shared by Payton and Sofia, soft and sullen, whispering as if to themselves, “I’m not supposed to go through this stuff.”

No, Noya, you are not, nor are the countless others in the wake. You shall grow up, faster than you ever imagined. In time the desert will invite you to be part of the call for change, and together we must cross it, one way or another. Whether we invite it, or it invites us, we are changed. It feels lonely, but we are not alone.

Written by John McKenna, Executive Director, Operation Respect

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