April 20, 1999
Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.
– Fred Rogers
I was a Junior at Enid High School, it had been a great year and we had just had our Junior/ Senior Prom. The school was busy with end of year musings and I was ready for the start of my Senior summer. However, that day changed my life and would ultimately change America.
That day would be forever remembered as the Columbine School Shooting. On this day there would be two high school boys that would open fire inside the campus of Columbine High School in Colorado. These two teenagers would take the lives of 15 people, including themselves.
Other than the University of Texas tower shooting in 1966 that I learned about in school, this was the first I would experience of school campus shootings. My Senior year of high school I remember was very different than any other year. Police were on guard, the doors were locked from the inside, and the fear of other students, for the first time, was real.
Growing up in Enid, Oklahoma was like any other city in the country in the 80’s/ 90’s. We rode our bikes along the streets, the dinner table was where we would catch up on the day, Sunday was a day for church, and the street light coming on was the alarm to be home for the night. As a child in those days I was very observant of my surroundings, of signs, of new things, and I remember that I loved to read bumper stickers on the cars ahead of ours as my dad drove down the street.
Often I would see a bumper sticker that would read “COEXIST.” It was spelled out of a combination of letters and symbols with a blue background and white lettering.
Not knowing the meaning and being too shy to ask, I just assumed that it meant to live right along with everyone else. To not hurt or harm anyone else and to possibly just let people be people.
I chose to adopt this bumper sticker, not really understanding the context, to my life. I was going to live life while letting others live theirs. I was going to continue to grow up going to church and laughing with my friends but I was also going to try not judge others and have an attitude that my world would just have to understand.
The first time this motto of COEXIST would challenge me was in August of 1990. Not fully understanding the happenings I would watch on the 10:00 news with my parents, I remember seeing the missile launches and oil rig fires on the TV happening in places I hadn’t heard of… Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia…where?
This was the first time I had seen what war looked like. The first time I attempted to understand that my life motto of COEXIST was not everyone’s life motto. The first time I learned that politics and money went together. The first time my Marine Corp/ Vietnam War veteran dad was glued to the TV for something other than sports. I began to understand that life was going to be more than just bike rides and dogs, more than best friends and sleepovers. It was real, powerful, and scary.
Now I am in my late 30’s and war hasn’t ended, school shootings increase in number, and the idea of COEXIST seems more important than ever. Last week at our Theology at Theopolis, we discussed interfaith cultures. The idea was of creating dialogue with people of others faiths beside Christianity. We compared world religions, we engaged in conversation about the importance of listening to hear and not to respond when talking about interfaith dialogue. What do other cultures tell us about faith, love, hope, grace, and peace? I went home reminiscing of my childhood motto, COEXIST.
If you have watched the news or have scrolled through Facebook or Instagram lately you have seen that America has had yet another school shooting. We see that tensions are high with the country of Iran, and that the idea of having people of different faith communities live in America is questioned. And I hurt.
I hurt every morning when I drop my daughters off at school and no matter how rough the morning has been at home I tell them that I love them and let them close the door to the car. I drive off wondering if I’ll see them at the end of the day or if this is the day that something will happen at their schools. I hurt when I see posts on Facebook that makes people of other faith cultures out to be terrorists, while knowing that my Muslim friend is one of the most passionate, loving, and kindest humans I know. I hurt when I am at church and hear people get upset over the tiniest, most selfish things instead of rejoicing that their church is open and that God is doing amazing things.
During this Mr. Rogers Sermon Series my hope and prayer is that we can go outside of ourselves and perhaps see that the world is much bigger than we. That people love and live differently. That, if just for a moment, we can think like that 10 year old little boy growing up with his own motto and COEXIST.