Visit To Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida

Bruce Baff

I had actually been thinking about visiting Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland for at least 3-4 days, especially when learning it was only twenty minutes, give or take, from the condo we are renting here in Coconut Creek. Fact is, Natalie and I were following each day’s developments quite closely ever since the fateful Wednesday, February 14.

Natalie BaffAnd while a steady diet of cable TV coverage provided a backdrop of gruesome, minute-by-minute detail—some later proven incorrect—after several days I found myself wanting more than what either MSNBC or CNN were reporting, pretty much non-stop.

Nonetheless, when I mentioned my intention to visit the high school campus in Parkland to several friends here in our development, most  expressed surprise. What would such a visit accomplish, they asked?  What would you do once on the scene?  Clearly, a visit like the one I was considering was never contemplated by these individuals–and well off their  radar.

Nonetheless, I felt a real need to SEE FOR MYSELF just what this close-by community was experiencing, rather than continue hearing about this terrible tragedy from the likes of Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer or others reporting from the scene.  Indeed, I found myself with a keen desire to personally witness what so many in that community were going through.  Even more importantly, I wanted to speak with some of those remarkable, determined, brave young people who absolutely refused to accept “status quo” regarding Florida’s all-too-easy access to high power weapons.  No amount of TV viewing—no matter how intense—would now suffice.  Expressed most succinctly, I wanted to bear witness.  In truth, I am so very, very glad we made the trip!

And while I clearly anticipated witnessing an emotional scene that day, I confess I was surprised how much what I saw affected me, down to my core.  To begin, there were row after row of flowers and poignant, hand-written signs, either laid on the ground or attached to a wire fence surrounding the sprawling school campus.  Brightly colored pinwheels stuck in the ground, gently turning in the wind.  Emotional notes pleading for action on the part of lawmakers…or simply asking for “rememberance”, written by people of all ages including local firefighters and various educational organizations.

IMG_8193Then there were signs with the names of all seventeen people gunned down.  Signs which asked you, the observer, to read those names aloud, rather than just repeat them silently.  And which I found myself ever-so-softly reciting those seventeen precious names, time and again, out of respect.   Nor, in fact, was I the only one doing so that day.  Indeed, this was obvious as I looked around me at the hundreds of people gathered at Stoneman Douglas that day.  Indeed, I will never forget the tears rolling down my cheeks as I moved from one emotional sign to the next.  Above all, I recall the amazing quiet on display that day, with very few side conversations, conversations somehow made unnecessary given the somberness of the moment.   I moved on…reading those same seventeen names whenever a new list appeared, all the while imagining what parents, husbands and wives must be going through.

As I walked further along the rain-soaked pathway filled with still more bouquets of flowers, both large and small, one hand-written sign caught my eye: “HEY HEY NRA…HOW MANY KIDS HAVE YOU KILLED TODAY!”  Pretty strong stuff.    There were, of course, so many more…all calling for common sense action.

Two other words appeared with great frequency every few feet or so.  Words conjuring up a different time and different place.  The words: “NEVER AGAIN”!!!  I think we all know what these refer to.

Then a sign held aloft by three young girls really captured my attention.   The girls were all either fourteen or possibly fifteen, certainly not any older.  They stood there–resolute, in total silence–not saying a word.  In truth, those six powerful words said it all and made a telling statement.   A statement now echoed by so many other young people throughout the nation.  The sign simply read “YOU MESSED WITH THE WRONG GENERATION!”

I thought about its no-holds-barred, straight-forward message.  Then decided I simply had to speak to one of the girls.  But what to say?  All three were quite young and obviously affected by the terrible carnage to which they were exposed just a few short days earlier.

What could I, a man so many years their senior…so many generations older…possibly say at that moment?  How could I somehow let them know that I—a total stranger–truly cared about what they were experiencing?   How could I possibly bridge this obvious age gap?  I paused for a moment…looked at the girl closest to me…then hesitatingly, quietly asked “WOULD YOU LIKE A HUG?”  Turns out she didn’t really have to reply or say anything…not a word.  Rather, we each held out our arms and embraced.  I could literally feel her body trembling as we cried aloud in each other’s arms.   That special hug lasted a good minute or so…probably even longer!

The “beyond words” bond the two of us shared that afternoon, how very extraordinary!

Clearly, it was then time to say good-bye.  But before I left she noticed the bright orange Syracuse University T-shirt I was wearing and commented she was hoping to attend my alma mater.  I then wished her and the other girls well and again stated how very proud I was of what they and the other students were hoping to accomplish.  In parting, I said I hoped her wish to attend S.U. would eventually come to pass and that every one of them would “stay safe”.

No doubt, a day in South Florida I will never, ever forget.

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5 thoughts on “Visit To Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida

  1. Bruce- I am so glad you and Natalie visited with your own eyes and hearts. I am tired of crying over each story and news report but your hug made me cry in a good way.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience Bruce. And thank you for having the good sense to see, first hand, what these families are going through. I had tears in my eyes just reading about your experience. Do you think these brave children will succeed in breaking free the grip that the NRA has over our politicians?

  3. Bruce, I’m Margaret Rice (Moir). According to my dear brother Fred, we are related. Your beautiful essay suggests we would be most sympatico. These young people are our best and only hope. We are called to stand with them. Thank you for being in that sacred place.

  4. Dear Bruce,
    I am very moved by your experience.

    Thank you for sharing!
    Shabbat Shalom,
    Dianna and Steve Chipkin

  5. Bruce, your exquisite essay about the high school shooting in Parkland, FL, brought tears to my eyes—again— I have been tearing up over this tragic event for over three weeks now. And yet nothing has been done to change gun laws. Yes, a lot of talk, but no action. This is how it goes, and then forgotten until the next shooting.

    My daughter lives in Coral Springs, FL, which is Stoneman Douglas School district. Luckily, my grandson attends a private high school, but they know of kids in the neighborhood who attend the school. This is an affluent area and people move there to be in the school district.

    The events of the day will be remembered forever, but what will be done?? And the lost lives won’t be returned– A very sad commentary.

What do you think?