Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Fire forged

In one of my manuscripts, an unlikely hero steps up in a critical moment and saves his small town from sliding into chaos. Initially, he shrugs it off, telling another character, “Someone had to do something.” Later, in a moment of reflection after the dust has settled, he muses over what he’s done in relation to a slightly shortened quote from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Considering the character’s pretty unremarkable life up until that point, he’s not quite sure where he fits.

Watching the March for Our Lives events–indeed, since the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School–I’ve been wondering about this in relation to the students we’ve been seeing. Ever since Emma Gonzalez stood before the crowd and cried, “We call–BS!” and stood toe-to-toe with NRA flack Dana Loesch; ever since David Hogg calmly brushed off those who said he was at best coached, at worst, a paid crisis actor. These students have been passionate, intelligent and articulate; they have started a movement that is having real impact. And I can’t help but wonder about them: were they always like this? Were they activists? Were they outspoken? Were they the leaders in their school already, members of the student government, captains of sports teams and debate teams, editors of school newspapers, kids that everyone knew? Or were they shy, anonymous, kids that stayed out of sight, out of mind, on the edges of the MSD community, either by choice or circumstance?

The citizen in me applauds them and doesn’t care much about what they were, only about what they are, and what they will become. The writer in me wants to know.

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