When Tragedy Strikes Close To Home

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If you read my About page you will notice that it was initially my desire to focus on three categories of writing for this blog. That is still my plan, and I guess technically this post would fit into one of those categories, but as I sit here typing in each letter, I never would have imagined I would be writing a post on this topic.

Three weeks ago today, there was a mass shooting upon unsuspecting individuals who were enjoying a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, CA. Before this attack, all the other horrible stories of shootings, attacks, etc., were just another piece of unfortunate news to read about. Not this time though. This time it hit close to my hometown, and forever changed my little portion of the world.

When tragedies like this happen in our country or around the world, we hear about them, mourn those who lost their lives or are fighting to keep them, and within a matter of a few short days, they fades into history, and are gradually seen less and less on the internet and social media. Never did I really stop to think about the ongoing effect on individuals and communities forever changed by such events. Obviously, now that I have had the experience of walking through such a tragedy much closer to home, that “fading into history” takes a lot longer to experience.

This post is dedicated to any community who has been through the front lines, and a tribute to the countless untold stories of people trying to resume some sense of normalcy in the wake of tragic events.

Just a few mornings ago on my way to work I realized just how true this process of healing and moving forward would take – and keep in mind, I personally, and no one that I know, was directly involved in the tragedy that occurred in San Bernardino. The events that took place just happen to be close to where I live and work.

I hear the loud sirens of emergency vehicles often enough. Typically my response is to obviously get out of their way as they travel down the street, but I realized how tense my body became as I saw vehicle after vehicle pass me by. Instead of sending up a prayer for safety for anyone effected by this emergency, my first thought was wondering if another tragedy had taken place. Whatever emergency those vehicles were heading too, it ended up not being another mass tragedy, but I had already re-trained myself to assume it was, just one week after one occurred close to my hometown.

After the shooting that took place in San Bernardino, there was no public announcement via media outlets to warn those living in or near the effected area to expect certain things to take place following the tragedy. Now I have a glimpse into what exactly happens to a community healing from such an event.

The initial reaction I experienced just two days after the shooting was a strong sense of quiet – like a cloud had hovered over us all. The places I went to and the people I interacted with just buildings away from the Inland Regional Center no longer had their lighthearted atmosphere. We all just quietly went about our business. I am sure that if a pin was dropped to the ground we not only would have all heard it, but we would have all jumped at such a sudden outburst of noise, no matter how subtle. The conversations at the local coffee shops were all about how everyone was dealing with the aftermath. There was graciousness displayed by all customers and employees. There were extensions of thankfulness and gratitude that the baristas were recovering and safe. Even the reaction of customers waiting in long lines at the shopping centers close to the shooting site had a different vibe. Instead of the normal complaining and impatient waiting for help from employees, everyone extended more grace than usual. Patience was extended to all, complaints were not uttered, and there was a general vibe of slowing down and soaking in even these seemingly mundane moments of waiting in line with other strangers in a store.

On the flip side, I was quite surprised to discover how much more on edge our surrounding communities had become. Since the shooting, I have never heard of so many false alarms, close encounters, and never ending rumors of more shootings, bomb threats, unruly individuals, etc. Most of these incidents were just rumors that local authorities could not keep up with fast enough to disprove their reality and quiet untrue ramblings that were spreading around. There may have been a couple of close calls or heightened precautions because of what had just transpired, but even those events probably wouldn’t have been broadcast all over social media and local news outlets had there not just recently been a mass shooting.

Perhaps these observations are just a result of study as a Sociology major in college. But I think they have more to do with how a community heals from an experience like this. I do not think I would be stating a lie if I said that every other community who has endured similar events has gone through circumstances like those I just detailed. We just never hear about them because we are not close enough for them to be relevant to us all. That doesn’t mean though that these stories of recovery are not important, or shouldn’t be told. I think the opposite should be done. How can we heal and move forward if we cannot share our experiences? The community of San Bernardino can now empathize with others who have endured – or will endure in the future – similar circumstances. If anything, we have become more united.

It is likely that over time, our community will resume a sense of “normalcy” in complaining about long lines, and returning to lighthearted conversations at the local coffee shops, but we will never forget. In some ways, that normalcy will be good, and in others I wish we wouldn’t have to revert back to “old ways”. We are forever changed though. Those who were directly impacted, and those like me, who have observed on the sidelines.

I think the biggest piece of hope I am able to take away regarding this situation is knowing that each day that passes brings me closer to my last day on earth. Whether I die tomorrow or live to be 101; whether I pass into eternity peacefully in my sleep, or at the hands of terrorists in a gruesome standoff; I know that nothing can separate me from the grip of my heavenly father’s hand. Knowing as a Christian that to die would be gain, makes life less scary, and my trust in God’s sovereign plan even stronger.

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Learning To Be Content…

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It’s been quiet here lately…

I have been mulling over a profoundly-worded-eloquently-stated-excuse-riddled apology as to why I have been so out of touch. Then I recently read a blogger’s reason for not meeting the “weekly quota” of pushing out life-changing blog posts and I decided I wanted to be more like her – to publish blog posts of worth – not quantity – even if that meant I only posted once a quarter instead of once a week.

And then life happened. Or in my case has come to a screeching halt. Like I am treading water and am wondering when/if I will ever plant my feet on solid ground again instead of bobbing up and down in the waves, holding my breath and waiting to find out what the next wave may have in store for me.

On a recent trip to Disneyland with family friends, I went on the Little Mermaid ride in California Adventure with a little guy. As the ride began to weave its way “under the sea” my companion took the deepest breath he could muster and held it in for as long as he could stand. About 30 second later, he gasped for breath and let out a disgruntled sigh followed by the following remark,

“Ugh! I still can’t hold my breath the entire time we are under the sea!”

Granted, most of the ride consists of time “under the sea”, so the probability of my companion’s ability to even fulfill his desire of holding his breath the entire time we were below sea level, was quite impossible. But in his little mind, he struggled to grasp the idea of being able to hold his breath with the reality that it is quite absurd to try such a feat as we were actually never under water and had no need to hold our breath.

This little experience though hilarious in the moment, got me thinking about how I handle different experiences in my life. Sometimes when I find myself in a “holding pattern” I assume that the obvious reaction is to hold my breath until the outcome is known, but usually I can only last about 30 seconds before I need to take a breath again, like my little friend. I struggle with my inability to fulfill a seemingly easy task, only to realize later that my grand idea of holding my breath to see if that would somehow help my situation is actually quite ridiculous and most unhelpful.

Holding patterns are my least favorite thing to endure. Because there is nothing else I can do to make things stop for good, or start up again.

 It is like waiting in line for your favorite ride at Disneyland when it suddenly shuts down. You have to decide if you are going to commit and stick it out even if that means you are standing there for the rest of the day, and then risking that whatever issue the ride experienced was never really fixed resulting in the last ride of your life; or if you should bail and not enjoy the thrill you experience, but lean on the side of safety and try to enjoy the rest of your day on other less exhilarating rides.

As I stand in this holding pattern, it doesn’t help that the life of other young adults surrounding me are getting green lights to do the things they have been waiting for – being hired by clients who love their work; getting scholarships to their top college because of high academic or athletic abilities; marrying their childhood sweetheart; giving birth to another precious child; spending a week with friends on a much needed vacation. I could go on…

No green lights for me. You see, the signals sensors are for some reason not recognizing me, and so cycle after cycle continues to go by, skipping my green light. I am now holding up traffic behind me, and causing road rage as each second passes by. If you have a number to a maintenance crew who specializes in the function of stop lights I would appreciate the referral – my light seems to be broken. Do I break the law and run the light, or stay put and aggravate everyone else behind me? (Okay, okay, this is probably not the greatest analogy to use, but it’s what came to mind, so there.)

I just recently celebrated my 24th year of life (I know, I’m getting old…my dad even told me so the other day…). Although I cannot say that I have actually written down a timeline of my life, I admit, I kind of had an idea of what it was supposed to look like in my head. Honestly, I am about as close to my #lifegoals as a turtle is to the finish line after the race has begun. (Translation: everyone else is nearing the finish line of one or more of their goals and I have only taken the painstakingly challenging two steps forward just to have to back up because something blocked my path resulting in even more of a delay.) As I look down my life goal checklist, I am running out of “alternate ending” scenarios to replace milestones that haven’t taken place. I am running out of options for myself and am scared at what I might experience when the alternate endings are all viewed.

At this point you’re probably thinking I am the most ungrateful, depressed, twenty-something, single, young adult that has ever walked the planet. If that is the case, it was not my intention. The whole reason I decided to start blogging was to share the details of my life in a way I think I express it best. I have found that I can relate to so many others when I read the blog of their life story. Maybe you can relate to mine. I don’t pretend to have it all-together. I probably never will. What I do know is this is the raw and real stirrings of my heart – a constant struggle of contentment.

Like learning to be content in the inability of holding one’s breath during the duration of the Little Mermaid ride.

Like being content when my Facebook feed is full of new “Life Events” from friends and family when mine has been dormant for years.

Like being content when the signal I am sitting at won’t turn green, cycle after cycle.

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I recently read the following quote regarding contentment that really spoke to my heart. May it be as encouraging to you as it was to me:

“[Contentment is] not a gift or fruit of the spirit. Paul simply said that he learned to be content. A person who’s learning contentment is a person who is honest about how they feel when they don’t have something they would like but are consistently looking for ways to find themselves with enough.” – Ryan and Amanda Leak, YouTube Documentary creators and authors of “The One: An Amazing Love Story Starts With You” as quoted in a “Single Matters” interview