Praying for Vegas, Crying for Us All

My cousin survived a mass shooting. But not all of the people standing beside her did. She stood trapped in a sea of panicked people as bullets rained down, ending lives with no rhyme or reason, not knowing if one was meant for her. She kept asking herself if this was really happening, how was it possible. Would she die like this? She thought of her three year old son back home, thought of how he might wake up in the morning suddenly without a mother, untethered from the soul who gave so much of herself to him. She thought of her little boy and swore that she would not die, not there, not yet. But no one in that crowd was granted the luxury of a choice.

People fell beside her, people screamed, people cried out in fear and pain, and people died. But she lived; my cousin survived the worst mass shooting in modern United States history. Her and her friend managed to make it to a barricade, climb over and run like hell, praying they would not be the next to fall. She made it out, but not everyone standing beside her did.

This morning I was able to talk to her, I was able to tell the world that my cousin survived. But there are many others facing a stark reality that their loved ones will not be coming home. Call it divine intervention, call it luck; I can’t make sense of it anymore. I cannot fathom what could have possibly led that man down the path he chose. I cannot comprehend what compelled him to take those weapons up to the 32nd floor and shoot to kill. These people were innocent. My cousin is innocent. She is a beautiful young woman with a 3 year old boy. She works hard and has a genuinely good heart. She did not deserve this. None of them did. 59 lives were cut tragically short. 527 people were injured. And for 22,000 others, their injuries may not be physically visible, but the scars will still be felt, changing them from the inside.

We are no strangers to violence, it seems our society is built on it. Yet we usually view it from the distance that our television or cell phone screens grant us. The pain and fear are palpable, but dulled through the lens of the media. We hurt, we decry the senseless actions, and yet it doesn’t actually touch us. The reality does not soak in. When I woke up that morning it was just a devastating news story, one in a long line of the hatred and pain we have been seeing for years. When I woke up I read the headline to my fiancé, commenting on how sad it was. I didn’t know until I was at work that she had been there. I didn’t know that she had stood in that crowd and feared for her life, picturing her child as bullets sliced through a peaceful night. I didn’t know that I had almost lost her, a piece of my family. I didn’t know until a few hours later. And then I cried. I cried and I panicked, I was scared and I raged inside as she told me what happened, what it was like, the way they were trapped, left at the cruel mercy of fate. I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t process it; my family, it touched my family- the terror sliced straight through my heart. I tried to be calm, but all I could think was that as I got ready for work that morning she could have been laying in a dusty venue in Vegas, staring sightlessly as the sun rose into the sky, ushering a new day she wouldn’t belong to anymore. So I cried. I sat at my desk and cried messy tears at what so many had lost.

My soul hurts. I can’t make sense of this tragedy. I wish I could say that I was not angry, but I can’t. I am furious at the senselessness of it all. My heart is pounding against my ribcage in a rage. This anger is driven by fear. I am terrified of losing someone that matters to me. Hate will not solve this; love is the only light that will show us the path we must follow, but how do we find it? Tonight I am exhausted and lost, floating through a world I wish I didn’t recognize. The truth is that it looks no different than it did yesterday. To most people this was just a sad, senseless story. We know this world all too well, we’ve heard this story time and again. The difference for me is that I have never been so close. I know we will never make sense of something like this. We will never find a satisfactory reason to explain away what took place that night. We must learn to be content with the knowledge that some things will never be understood. But that does not mean that we ignore it, that does not mean that we must shrug our shoulders and accept that this is the world we will raise our children in. A world where their mother can go to a concert and never come home. I do not want to live in a world that witnesses this violence and looks the other way after the headlines have ceased.

Tonight my heart is broken, my soul is worn and frayed. Tonight I sit here with no more tears left to cry, trying to make sense of a world that will never look the same to me again. Tonight I ache for all of those hurt, for every person who won’t be able to come home, to hug their children or tell their parents that they love them. Tonight I grieve for what we have lost. And yet I must remember that there are still small miracles to be thankful for. I’m thankful that more people were not hurt. I’m thankful that my cousin is at home cuddling her baby boy right now. Tonight I hold on to small miracles because I know that I will fall apart if I don’t cling to them. Tonight I am thankful because she lived.

I dream of a world…

My dreams are not big or luxurious. I dream of a world where I can walk into a shopping mall, a movie theater, a school, or even my own place of work and not worry about an irate person carrying a weapon and a vendetta inside, hoping to make the nightly news in their final blaze of glory. I dream of a world where I do not have to listen and watch my surroundings as I walk to my car, searching for a hidden threat. I dream of a world where I can turn on the news and not hear about another bombing, another attack, another murder; more death, more pain, more heartache. I dream of a world where the length of my skirt does not measure my worth or the level of respect others give me. I dream of a world where no means no. I dream of a world where the color of your skin or your nation of origin is a mere cliff-note, and not the cover of your book, to be judged and tossed away. I dream of a world where a helping hand is a given, not a political opporitunity to stand on a soap box and point fingers. I dream of a world where someone asks you how you are doing- and waits to hear the answer. I dream of a world full of common courtesy and, dare I say, compassion.

I know that these ideals are the simplest and most complex wishes a person can have. Their solutions seem so straightforward, a child could figure it out, could see the flaws in our system. But alas, we are not children, and we have shaded this world is colors that they cannot see. We forgot the lessons our parents taught us when we were small; perhaps they forgot them too. We always say that the world is just too complicated- but perhaps we are the ones making it that way.

We tell ourselves that we are just one person, and as such, we cannot make a difference. But we are diluting ourselves, pointing the finger at anyone else, anyone but us. Because taking responsibility is not in our nature. We are just one person- we did not make the world turn into such an ugly place, we just live in it. It’s a cop out, an escape hatch, a way to turn the other cheek. If we want to see a change, we have to start small, we have to take a long look inside and realize the type of people that we have become. We have to recognize our biases and prejudices, those knee-jerk thoughts and judgments that come to us without thought. We are not saints, we all have them, we have too many life experiences not to. But that doesn’t make them right.

It starts with instrospection, with self-awareness, with a realization of why we are the way that we are. It builds with a change; with a simple respect, with that age-old piece of wisdom: treat others as you wish to be treated. It crescendos into action; in speaking up for someone without a voice, in asking how they are, in reaching our your hand to pull someone else in.

The world may be a dark place sometimes, but we do not have to dress to match. We do not have to change, to become bitter imbattled versions of those bright happy people we once were. The world may be a complicated place, but we do not have to be. Kindness begets kindness, a smile is more often met with a smile. A soft word is more respected than a harsh one.

I am not naïve, I know that my dreams will probably always remain dreams. I know that I will continue to reverently walk by the memorial in a mall near my home where three people lost their lives in a shooting four years ago. I know I’ll always wonder if the other shoe will drop, if I’ll find myself in the same position, running from the sounds of a rifle in what should be a safe place. I know my heart will ache every time I hear about another active shooter, another bombing, another death. I know that I will cry interally everytime I am in a room and people are asked to raise their hands if they have been a victim of sexual assault or rape. Because all too often there are more hands up in the air than those laying flat. I know that I will always walk briskly to my car, ears listening for footfalls that come too close, eyes scanning for suspicious people or vehicles, fingers gripped tightly around my keys- just in case. I know that I will always dress in a certain way to keep people from staring, to keep them from talking. I will avoid certain situations because trust is a hard commodity to find.

But I wont stop dreaming about a world where these do not have to be my realities. I will continue to find hope in those few people who ask me how I am doing and wait to hear the answer. I will find comfort in the smiles of a stranger. I will keep speaking my mind when it matters, and listening when someone needs to talk. I will keep trying. I will keep hoping, I will keep dreaming. Because some dreams are too important to let die.