Country Music legend Harlan Howard defined his genre as “three chords and the truth.” There is a particular comfort and truth in country music that speaks most deeply in dark times. Sadly, Valentine's Day is now forever connected to one of the darkest days in national history for the United States, for a reason that keeps repeating itself.

Nikolas Cruz was known to students, parents, and authorities as a disturbed young man, depressed and on the brink. His decision to take an Uber ride to his former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on this Valentine's Day created grief and devastation that will never subside for 17 families, endless circles of friends and loved ones, and the community of Parkland, Florida, that will forever find itself coping with horror beyond understanding.

This Valentine's Day will be registered as another example of where systems were in place and used, lives were spared, and heroes stepped forth, yet 17 young lives were senselessly lost for no cause. No country song can ever ease this heartbreak, but country stars are doing more than singing plaintive verses.

Courage to change

It is hardly a wonder that country music artists are the loudest voices in the music world pleading from the heart for more than just comfort and prayers. The bullets that reigned down from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas onto a thrilled, relaxed crowd of country music fans gathered at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival last fall took aim right at the heart of country music and performers.

At this year's 60th Grammy awards, the tribute and the loss was still palpable, and the healing will take more than a lifetime.

Jennifer Nettles has employed her powerful voice in eloquent calls for peace on her many Christmas specials, to portraying the wise and steadfast mother of Dolly Parton in the “Coat of Many Colors” movies.

The Sugarland singer put in pointed words on Twitter that people who want to hurt “as many innocent children” as possible “use guns to do it.” She openly wondered “how long it will take our government to do anything at all.” She called for motherly voices to scream “till they do.”

Many younger hitmakers offered prayers and love and spoke of broken hearts, but Margo Price broke that chain of sentiment alone, reminding that “Congress does nothing.

We are failing our children.” Cam was another star too upset to pray, instead, she exclaimed, “please get upset” to the nation.

Sheryl Crow wasn’t lax in labeling the root of the problem at gun violence, and the words of Rosanne Cash could have been a song on their own, echoing the spirit of youth “just going to school” and “waiting for their college acceptances,” not to mention the simple joys of sharing Valentine's Day with friends they had known for years. Cash described that “I woke up crying.” Those words alone could be a song for every family, every teenager in America now, and it's hard not to imagine the kind of song that Rosanne Cash’s father would create in light of this constant cycle.

Johnny Cash understood the quiet power of the protest song as deeply as Woody Guthrie.

Rosanne did have her own target, bluntly declaring that “Congress, this is on you.”

How many is enough?

The “next day” news cycles following every senseless tragedy are the hardest to hear.

Officials have already come forth with final tallies of the lost and injured, more tremendous tales of heroism by teachers, coaches, and valiant teenage students. David Hogg is one of those students, who was just caught up in the massacre as he and his classmates were about to finish up their day on February 14. He encouraged that “ideas are wonderful” and “help you get reelected,” referring to politicians, but pleaded, “please take action.” The student endorsed “any action at this point” that leaves “stagnancy” and “blaming” and moves to “save lives,” making sure guns cannot get into the troubled hands of those with more troubled minds.

Chris Stapleton reminded after the Las Vegas shooting that “Music has the capacity to heal.” So much healing is needed now.

Nikolas Cruz needed treatment and healing of many kinds, never a weapon. The original 1929 Valentine's Day massacre was a matter of gangsters getting even. This year’s cascade of catastrophe involved completely innocent lives. One young life lost is too many. Will it take a million more to make days like this never happen again?