In many ways, it seems only fitting that in this final week of Lent, my reflection on the March for Our Lives in DC should be connected with an Ash Wednesday sermon I heard many years ago entitled “Sitting in the Ash Heap.” The fact that the Parkland shooting occurred on February 14th which was Ash Wednesday this year seems to further solidify and mystify the connection.

The image of sitting in the ash heap has steadied me in my darkest times and when I’ve been faced with how to help others in their bleakest hours. When someone is wounded, broken, grieving, and lost, I often feel like I must say something, do something, or have the “right” answers. I have often been afraid of engaging with hurt loved ones and friends until I feel like I know how to handle the situation. In this Ash Wednesday sermon years ago, I learned that the idea of sitting in the ash heap is simply to be present with someone who is hurting and share with them in their pain. It’s not about words or actions, it’s about being beside someone, listening to them if they want to speak or sitting in silence when no words can be spoken.

At the March for Our Lives on Saturday, there was incredible line up of voices telling stories to hundreds of thousands of people about the darkest hours they had experienced as survivors of gun violence. The most powerful moment, for me, was found in the four and half minutes of silence when Emma Gonzalez wept and held the audience captive through her tears. She opened up her wounds for all to see and gave each person at the rally a chance to be present with her in the darkness. In that moment, 800,000 people of all ages, races and religions, stepped into the ash heap with her and allowed themselves to feel her pain and the brokeness of her fellow survivors. 

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The shared silence was the most profound moment I have ever witnessed and experienced. I am forever altered because I, along with so many others, sat in the ash heap with Emma.

With the students and survivors leading the way, we will hold each other up as we stand from the ashes. Now that we have been into the deepest wounds of all those who bravely shared their grief, fear, suffering, and pain, we are bonded with them in our collective journey towards light.