Few people could find the courage and presence of mind exhibited Tuesday by Antoinette Tuff, the bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy. Her actions and words should inspire us all to look at life a different way and to treat others with care.
Tuff faced a frightening and dangerous situation when a 20-year-old gunman stormed the suburban Atlanta school, threatening the lives of everyone in the building and law enforcement outside. It was another Columbine or Sandy Hook massacre in the making.
Tuff's calm during a storm can be heard in the 911 call available online. She connects with the despondent man, Michael Brandon Hill, as she takes over the crisis and eases him toward a resolution that is almost miraculous in this age of suicidal massacres.
Because of Tuff, Hill surrendered and no one was injured.
It's the stuff movies are made of, and this story contains a lesson.
Hill apparently said his life didn't matter - the same complaint of nearly all who plan or commit crimes of anger. Tuff said "yes, it does." She then shared her own personal pain, saying her husband left her after 33 years of marriage. She told the gunman of her disabled son. She shared her struggle with suicidal thoughts, emphasizing that she chose life and she's "still here."
Tuff showed Hill that he wasn't so different after all. She showed him that even a perfect stranger could care about him. She told him that he matters. She did what others should have done long before the young man became so angry and sad that he was willing to commit a deadly crime.
When a gunman goes after a crowd, we ask ourselves "why?" We wonder what has happened in America that results in such despair in someone so young. We consider violence in video games; mental health; poor parenting; and guns. We examine public policies that might solve the problem. We react when it's far too late to do much good.
By his own admission, Hill has mental issues and is on medication. But the message Tuff gave him has importance for us all.
America's entitlement generation does not expect life to be challenging. We have raised children with high expectations of having it all and those expectations can only be dashed. Young Americans anticipate material possessions, success in business, success in relationships and they aren't prepared for life's inevitable imperfections. Tuff empathized with Hill's pain. She knew life is not as easy as most of us hope. Her faith and her experience allowed her to reach out and tell him that despite everything, "It's all gonna be well."
We can all do what Tuff did. Opportunities abound, if only we look and try to care about those around us. We all know someone who is going through divorce, bankruptcy, loss of a job or debilitating physical and/or mental pain. Most of us know someone who is bullied in a school. We all have the chance to speak softly, lovingly and truthfully. We don't need to wait until a person snaps, showing up to do harm with a knife, a gun or a bomb.
We should identify those in our lives who could use the friendly voice of a person who cares. Tell them that life is hard, but well worth living. Look at what Tuff did and pass it on.