A Reflection

In light of the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks

All my life, I’ve attended four mourning services.

The first one happened when I was about ten. It was for a girl from school that I barely knew. She was also ten. Cancer took her life.

The second one happened almost three years ago. It was for an upperclassman at my high school. He was always laughing. Always joyful and happy. Cancer, too, took him away.

The third one happened back around late March. It was for my ahma. She was — and still is — one of the kindest and most loving women I know. Old age stole her from us.

But the fourth one — the fourth one happened just today. It was for twelve lives I never got a chance to know and never will. One of them was a girl my age with whom I shared a class.

And this time, a man with a gun took them away.

I woke up this morning to texts and messages from family and friends asking if I was okay — if I was still alive and well. I went to class, and the first thing we discussed was what had happened last night. I went to work, and all the girls talked about was the people who were suffering. I walked around campus, and all I saw were distraught faces, tears, and hush-hush whispers. There was a weight hanging heavy in everyone’s hearts, and the whole school could sense it, too.

It was simply mind-numbing.

So often, if not all the time, I see news of terrible tragedies happening all around the world and never once realized that it could very well happen to me or my community at some point. And then — it did. So, so close to home. All day long, one word and one word only replayed over and over again in my mind: Why?

Like I mentioned, I didn’t have a personal relationship with any of the victims; so I couldn’t possibly dare to imagine how devastating, how searing, how heartbreaking the pain of loss and grief must feel to those who actually did. In some ways, it’s difficult even to comprehend the fact that these were people who really walked the same earth and breathed the same air that I did. They all seemed so far away.

But hearing stories from their loved ones, seeing photos of them fully living, watching people cry and mourn for them — these are all the things that reminded me of how real they truly were. They were daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, friends, mentors, coaches, lovers, fighters, and everything else in between. Rupert Brooke put it best in his poem “The Dead”:

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvelously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colors of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

These twelve souls were just as real as you or me or the next person over. And nothing will ever be quite the same with this crushing loss.

For this and so much more, my heart breaks for them, too.

In light of this event, of course, there begs a question on the topic of gun control. There’s bound to be more debates, controversies, and conflicts. To that, though, I say that there is a time for righteous anger and standing one’s ground, but there is also a time for mourning — for honoring the dead.

Let this time right now and this place right here be one for spreading love and kindness, for encouraging joy and peace, for giving and receiving light, for healing and grieving, for looking towards Hope. Let us all unite and stand with one another; for without us together, we can do nothing.

So to all the people who are mourning, we stand with you. To all the people who are hurting, we stand with you. To all the people who feel lost or utterly shocked, we stand with you. To all the people who are sacrificing to put others first, we stand with you. To anyone and everyone involved, we stand with you.

Know, please, that we are all here for you. Always.

I leave you with this quote which I find comforting — and I hope you, too, will. It’s from Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie:

As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on — in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.
Death ends a life, not a relationship.

May they all rest in peace.