“Where there is love, there is life.” – Mahatma Gandhi
On August 20, 2013 in Decatur, Georgia, there was life because of one woman’s courage and unconditional love of a would-be shooter. This young man entered an elementary school prepared to shoot and kill as many children and teachers as possible before taking his own life. But he didn’t. He didn’t because he received that which he had been seeking all along. Love.
This love came through a quiet, humble, loving woman in the front office named Antoinette Tuff who diffused the situation and eventually softened his heart. How? She extended understanding and compassion because she could see that he was a hurting young man. She told him that she loves him and started praying for him right there! He must have listened to her and trusted her love because he eventually opened up to her that he has never felt loved, and that he felt his life was worthless. She gently suggested that he did not have to die that day, and that his life has worth. She assured him that he would be safe and learn important things from the experience that will help him move forward. She empathetically connected with him by sharing that she, too, has struggled with feeling unloved most of her life.
She helped him feel needed by sharing her losses and struggles in life, one of which include being widowed after thirty-three years of marriage. She appealed to his compassion, and his ability to love her, even if only a little. She connected him to a lifeline of love that comes from a loving God.
Her love for him was of such an influence that when the young man loaded his guns in front of her and started walking out of the office toward the classrooms she called after him to come back and talk to her longer. He responded to her voice because hers was a voice of love. Though shots were exchanged between the young man and police, love won the day, and he responded to her request to surrender to police.
My first thought upon reading the story of this amazing woman was that we must open our hearts to the abundant love of God that is there for all mankind. We must love our fellow man in as perfect a way as we possibly can. No longer do we need to respond to others with unkindness. If, like Antoinette Tuff, we can recognize our pain in others, we can look past the behaviors and to the pain and hurt of our fellow man. Only then are we mentally, emotionally and spiritually open and ready to give love. Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Time was of the essence that day, as Ms. Tuff had only moments to spiritually and emotionally connect with the young man in a last-minute effort to save the children and faculty of Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy.
The world cannot turn a blind eye to this profound example of compassion and courageous love. This heroic and spiritual woman taught the world the simple yet profound influence we can have on others by softening, reconnecting, and healing their hearts with love. Indeed, a kind answer truly does turn away wrath. There was life because there was love.
By Alisa Fisher, CECP