“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
– Clarence the angel
It’s a Wonderful Life
This country has tossed around a lot of potential solutions to school shootings since the stunning massacre at Sandy Hook.
We’ve talked about gun control, arming teachers, more armed security guards. We’ve not talked a lot about mental health reform, which is what we really need to be talking about. That’s the common thread in these events.
The case of armed intruder Michael Brandon Hill at a Decatur elementary school last week is a prime example. His problem wasn’t the gun lobby; by his own admission, he was off his medication.
But the real story in last week’s tense drama was Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy front-office worker Antoinette Tuff.
It’s one of the stories of the year, in our view.
Rather than run and hide, Ms. Tuff played intermediary between the gunman and the 911 dispatcher – with a unique alloy of steel and silk. Courageously, she stood with the gunman and relayed messages to the dispatcher, while showing divine love and kindness to the troubled young man.
She helped encourage him to surrender peacefully. No one was injured.
“It’s going to be all right, sweetie,” she reassured the armed man. “I just want you to know I love you, though, OK? And I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing that you’re just giving up and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life.”
At another point, she opened up to him about her own struggles:
“I thought the same thing,
you know. I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me. But look at me now. I’m still working and everything is OK.”
Yes, let’s look at her now, because she is the very face of love and compassion.
There can be no doubt that her calm compassion and empathy extinguished a blaze that could have raged out of control. It’s not a stretch to suggest she may have saved little boys and girls and her adult colleagues, perhaps numerous of them.
The term “hero” is sometimes awarded dubiously today. But there is no debating the
accolade in her case.
You can try to train people to do what she did, and indeed she was trained. But it still seemed to spring naturally from her heart.
And let there be no mistake: What she did, in confronting potential mass violence with a fire extinguisher of love, is neither weak nor easy. It’s the sign of great strength and wisdom.
She is, indeed, one Tuff cookie.
Her admission that she considered harming herself last year is reminiscent of the plot in It’s a Wonderful Life. In it, the suicidal George Bailey is given a chance to see what the world would be like without him. In life, he had saved his brother from drowning, and his brother had gone on to save a transport of soldiers in the war. But without him, his brother dies and so does “every man on that transport.”
Similarly, we are so grateful Antoinette Tuff was here to help save those kids and colleagues.
You just never know when life will call out to you.