The most powerful weapon
On Tuesday morning, school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff was called in from vacation to fill in for a coworker.
Also on Tuesday, 20-year-old Michael Hill walked into Ms. Tuff’s school with a rifle and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition.
Ms. Tuff intervened, simultaneously advising students to stay in their classrooms, coordinating with 911 dispatcher Kendra McCray, and calmly negotiating with Mr. Hill.
In a 911 call made public Thursday, Ms. Tuff can be heard addressing Mr. Hill with astonishing empathy. She explains that she, too, has seen hard times, on account of her “multiple disabled” son and her husband’s leaving her after 33 years of marriage; she even considered killing herself. She tells Mr. Hill that he is not past the point of no return; having hurt no one, there is still every possibility things will turn out OK.
Over the course of the 24-minute call, Ms. Tuff talks Mr. Hill into laying down his gun. She tells him she loves him, and that she’s proud of him. It is only in the final seconds of the call, after the police have taken custody of him, that she exclaims she has never been more terrified in her life.
One blogger wonders, “Can courage like Antoinette Tuff’s be taught?”
It’s an interesting question. Personally, I feel most people have more courage than they–or others–credit themselves. Most will never have that courage tested in such extraordinary settings, but I have seen great courage reflected in seemingly small acts.
What is pivotal to me here is not courage, but compassion.
Like courage, there are many small, important examples of compassion in day-to-day life. Seldom are we given opportunity to bear witness to extreme compassion: compassion in an especially charged situation where it would be easy to be hateful or angry, but where compassion itself clearly changes the course of things.
My heart recognizes Ms. Tuff’s courage, but it is her compassion that touches it most deeply.
Ms. Tuff saw and responded not to a bad guy, nor a villain, but to a suffering young man.
It is a deeply moving thing to hear a woman speaking words of love to an armed gunman. This is true whether you are a 911 dispatcher, a member of the public, or a gunman.
Are guns powerful? Indubitably, with physically limited but terrible reach. Is love powerful? Indeed, for though it is a feeling, it may inspire outward acts that change the shape of things.
Is compassion–empathetic love in action–powerful? One need only listen to this 911 call to understand that it is, perhaps, the most powerful weapon available to humankind.