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robb elementary, gun violence, if anything happens I love you

A film from 2020 still rings true.

In her book “Atlas of the Heart,” researcher and public speaker Brené Brown defines anguish as “a mix of shock, incredulity, grief, and powerlessness.” She adds that the feeling of powerlessness is particularly painful.

After yet another school shooting, this is the raw emotional space that many Americans find themselves in.

Whether directly impacted, scrolling through tragic headlines or perhaps even wondering when your own loved one will pop up in the casualties, there’s an undeniable sense of collective helplessness. Pleas and protests for more gun safety laws that go unanswered only exacerbate the unease. When it feels like things will never change, we find ourselves once again asking: What to do with all this rage, sadness, frustration and heartbreak?

Though originally released on Netflix in 2020, the animated short film “If Anything Happens I Love You” explores this particular kind of grief in a way that still feels poignant and timely. And sometimes, when we have no earthly idea how to understand our difficult emotions, let alone act on them, art can be a valuable place to start.

The Academy Award winning short, directed by Will McCormack and Michael Govier, tells the story of two parents mourning the loss of their daughter, a victim of a school shooting. You can watch the trailer below:

Govier explained in an interview with Salon that the filmmakers wanted to focus on what “grief and loss really look like” for a parent under these horrific circumstances, rather than the typical, sterile news cycle narratives.

There is no dialogue throughout the entire 12 minutes. Yet through touching music, sparing use of color (the film is mostly in black and white) and characterized shadows, the audience becomes immersed in the full spectrum of each parent’s emotions. The love, the fear, the longing, the regret. All of it.

McCormack added that though the piece centers around parents immediately affected by a school shooting, the message is universal.

“Gun violence is not indiscriminate,” he told Salon. “It's not someone else's problem, it's everyone's problem. It happens in schools, it happens in grocery stores, it happens everywhere … This is something that affects everyone in all walks of life now, so we felt drawn to write about it.”

One thing becomes painfully clear by the end of the short film: The mother and father are in so much agony that they are disconnected from anything in the outside world, even each other. They share dinners in silence as their shadow counterparts fight with one another, then go off into their own private worlds to be alone in their despair.

It isn’t until the spirit of their daughter urges them to rekindle their connection that they can once again embrace one another. It seems like a gentle reminder that to create lasting change, more compassion is needed. If we don't connect with each other on a human level, history is bound to repeat itself.

Grief isn’t easy. But art can at least help us make the pain inside a bit more tangible, which can lead to more inspired action.

If you’d like to watch the full film (I highly recommend it), you can still find it on Netflix.

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