There’s a code red at our school rn and we don’t know if it’s a drill
What is code red
Where are you?????
No one knows what’s going on
Are you safe
In a closet with like 30 people
That’s how it started. The text exchange I had with my daughter on Feb. 14, 2018.
She spent over two hours hiding in a closet until she was rescued by the SWAT team. For two heart-stopping hours we exchanged short texts as I helplessly watched ― on national television ― asan army of police descended on her school. The school I had dropped her off at hours earlier.
I can’t believe I just wrote that.
You never think it will happen in your town. But it really can. It really did.
Quiet, idyllic Parkland. A small town in the popular tourist haven of South Florida that most people had never heard of. A town that favors roundabouts over traffic lights. A town where on many roads 35 mph is considered speeding.
Our town had your normal ups and downs, personality clashes and overgrown lawns for people to complain about. The news reports like to paint a picture of a perfect setting to contrast it with what happened.
But no place is perfect and truly, no contrast is needed.
Our town could be your town. And, honestly, anything can look perfect after something like this happens.
You see, beneath the activism and battle cries for change that you see in the media is something you might not have seen: a community struggling to deal with the incomprehensible. The world as we knew it was shattered that day. Seventeen beautiful lives lost. Our perceived sense of innocence gone.
The sadness is tangible. You see it in everyone’s eyes, tears always at the ready; you feel it in hugs, which no longer seem like a greeting, but a physical support of each other’s sorrow. The media invasion has lessened considerably, but for a time, cameras were everywhere, documenting every gut-wrenching moment. I know these visiting voyeurs were doing their jobs, but in some places the cameras felt intrusive and unnecessary to document such a deep level of grief.
Amidst all of this horror and sadness, some of the most amazing things have happened ― things that didn’t always make it on the news. Banners from all over the country, some from as far away as California and Hawaii, began arriving featuring messages of love and support. They now adorn the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seeing them for the first time brought tears. The compassion of strangers. Companies have sent teddy bears and cupcakes for the students. The thoughtfulness of strangers. Volunteers brought sweet therapy dogs to welcome students back to their classrooms. The caring of strangers.
I’ve seen members of the community doing nice things for people they’ve never met. Facebook posts about volunteering have popped up ― not asking people for help, but offering it. On the first day back, police officers from cities near and far lined the sidewalk to give our kids high-fives and words of encouragement as they made their way back into school.
And it’s not just those outside of Parkland.
There was a line a half-hour long to hug the principal. Teachers have changed the style of their lesson plans to help students learn in this emotionally raw environment. Signs of support line front yards and dot roads to remind the kids they are loved.
When you see all of that, when you feel all of that, when you live through all of that and are a part of all of that, it becomes suddenly clear: At the end of the day, we need each other. We all need each other. While politicians on nightly cable news shows fight about what to do, differences of politics, of opinions, have been pushed aside in our community without a second thought. We see each other’s humanity and share each other’s pain. We have come together as one community, united. If only it could stay this way.
For all those whose names I do not know, thank you. Thank you for all of your efforts. The banners, the letters, the items ― your actions are incredibly meaningful. You have touched our lives in a profound way and as a community we are forever grateful.
But at the end of the day, the excruciating loss of those 17 lives is still there. We must keep their memories alive and their families in our prayers. As time goes on, we must continue to be there for those families as a community. And we must never forget.
If I can leave you with anything it would be this: Please, hug your children tighter. Make sure the ones you love know you love them. Don’t waste precious time on nonsense.
Our reality is changed and our hearts are broken, but our resolve has been strengthened by the love and caring we’ve found in each other ― and, most surprisingly, in the words and actions of strangers. This love and care isn’t something that can be easily broadcast or witnessed over the airwaves, but it’s there and it is nothing short of extraordinary.
The path forward is not clear, but it is there.
For now we take each day one at a time.
We are Parkland strong.
We are MSD strong.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.