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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