By Lizbeth Hartz
I shared the shock and pain of people violated by mass murder when thousands gathered together to grieve and protest on that spring day at the March for Our Lives Rally in Washington, D.C.
High school student Emma Gonzales triggered tears among the massive crowd in her unwanted, newfound role as anti-gun violence activist. She spoke eloquently for two minutes. Tears trickling down her cheeks, she stood silently for four and a half minutes more—the time it took Nicolas Cruz to finish murdering 17 people at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Her words, “Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands,” hit me hard.
The Parkland shooting happened on Valentine’s Day this year. On Valentine’s Day in 1985, four shots from a coworker’s .357 Magnum ripped through the flesh of my dearest friend Vic. My nerves agitated so intensely that, like a shorted-out circuit, I shut down. Like a cancer patient after a chemo treatment, I numbed out. Three days later, grief engulfed me. Something inside me shattered like Vic shattered when those bullets blasted through his body.
Emma said, “Everyone, absolutely everyone, was forever altered.”
In those six and a half minutes of the massacre, the students at Parkland morphed from adolescents having fun to political activists who won’t give up their quest to end gun violence.
Like a volcanic eruption, violence explodes, creating chaos, venting pent-up energy. That energy starts as shock, changes into grief, then anger, tries to change aggression into harmony, to heal something that cannot be healed.
In the few seconds it took a coworker to shoot Vic, I too was altered forever. On the night before the judge gave his verdict in the murder trial, Vic’s sister and I speculated that the killing was like a rock thrown into a pond, making a loud plop and a big splash. But the reverberations caused by a violent death, the lives torn apart, are like ripples circling out, wider and wider, forever.
The immensity of the transformation caused by violence happens with the ripples. The ripples symbolize the intensity of grief and rage at the violence. The rage is calmed by the kind of activism that places 7,000 pairs of shoes on the Capitol’s lawn to symbolize 7,000 young people dead by gun violence since December 2012. The activism creates the March for Our Lives movement and sends a message to Congress—reform gun control legislation or watch more innocents die from gun violence.
Experiencing the violation of violence creates a need for healing. Like Parkland students speaking out about the horror and heartache of witnessing friends senselessly slaughtered, artists become activists when we discover what’s important to us and present our truths to the public. Whatever cause moves us needs us, needs our perspectives and our talents.
I became an author activist when I realized I loved Vic more than I feared his murderer and told the truth even though testifying against the killer could cost me my life. My memoir, Angel Hero, Murder in Hawai’i, A True Story, is the fruit of that activism. Many of my fellow writers and fine artists also cope with violence and loss through artistic expression. We grieve for family and friends whose suns set way too soon. Even now, when I see twinkling blue eyes and a kind smile in a strong man’s face, I ache for what ought to have been.
Creating art calms our fight-or-flight responses, gives an outlet to feelings of anger, hopelessness, and depression. Engages us and pulls us back into the flow. Helps us heal.
Emma said, “We are grieving. We are furious. We are using our words fiercely and desperately because that’s the only thing standing between us and this happening again.”
Activism is the human spirit’s way of trying to heal. Activists chant: “Enough is enough. Never again.”
It happens again. We protest because we must. Silence in the face of a crime is a lie of omission. The world needs our voices.
About the Author
Lizbeth Hartz moved to Hawai’i in the mid-70s and fell in love with the islands. A wannabe-writer, she dove into freelancing, resulting in nearly 150 magazine articles published in local and regional magazines. Her true-crime, true-love memoir, Angel Hero, Murder in Hawai’i, A True Story, grew out of that experience. In 2016, Kwill Books released the third edition of her book Angel Hero with a fabulous new cover. Her song, also titled Angel Hero, is available on iTunes and Amazon and serves as the music for my book trailer. Currently, she is collaborating on a screenplay adaptation of her book. For more information, visit Hartz’s Web site.