Last Sunday night I went to bed thinking about all the random things that had happened over the weekend, mostly consisting of “ughhh why did I eat that” and “I’ll just grade that really fast at school”. Monday morning, at 5am, I was sleepily glancing through my daily Skimm e-mail, and stopped cold when I saw the headline “Shooter at Vegas Music Festival”. Every time there is a tragedy that happens, I always feel shock and empathy, but this time was different–this time, my best friends were at the festival.
After some frantic phone calls and panicked-but-trying-to-sound-calm voicemails, I saw that my friend had posted on Facebook that they were ok. Relief immediately flooded my body, and I got ready for work in a haze of thankfulness.
The reality of things truly didn’t hit me, however, until I got to work and I started watching footage of the horror. The staccato bursts of the gunfire sounded like a video game or an action movie, and the panicked people mere actors on a set.
But it was real life. Live, horrific, indescribable. I started bawling as the reality of the situation hit me. I tried to imagine what my friends must have felt like, the amount of adrenaline pumping through their bodies, the terror coursing through every minor vein.
Yet as much as I want to enter in to their pain, I can’t. I wasn’t there. I have no idea what it TRULY felt like. All I know is that I need to be there for them in whatever capacity I can be.
Which is all we can ever do in a situation like this. Be there. And by ‘be there’ I mean actually BE THERE. Be available to meet up at 9pm if they need to get out of the house. Be there to hear their stories, 20 times if need be. Be there to sit in silence when the stories are too painful to utter out loud. Be there when they attempt to be strong and be there when that attempt crumbles.
Humans are the largest paradox on earth because there is nothing so incredibly strong yet so softly fragile as the human spirit. If there is any glimpse of light in this situation, its that it caused so many people to hold their loved ones a little tighter, hug a little longer, and love a little deeper than before.
It sucks that sometimes it takes a situation like this to make us realize how fragile life is and what the important things are; we have little reminders surrounding us constantly, and the reality of our impending death is always acknowledged when the topic is brought up. However, being slammed in the face is a lot different than a gentle nudge, and that harshness, however unpleasant, can grudgingly be appreciated for the fruit that it bears.
The thing about tragedy is that it cannot be truly understood unless it directly effects you. I have experienced way more empathy and love for the victims of Las Vegas than I have for any other horrible event, simply because I had a direct connection. I can never enter into that experience fully, but I have definitely been opened up more than ever before.
The biggest thing that has come out of this experience for me is the importance of loving fiercely. We cannot burn with the brightness of a 1000 suns every second, but we are infinitely capable of bursts of ardent flame, way more than what is self-allotted.
Love, no matter what kind, deserves to be fueled boldly and purposefully. Make it a habit to show your love. So many times we assume that those in our life know that we love them. However, knowing and feeling are two very different things, and the latter is what everyone deserves to experience.
Simply saying “I love you” is powerful. Hugging someone even when you just saw them yesterday, or when you know you’ll be hanging out tomorrow. Squeezing a hand. Keeping plans. Sitting in silence in each other’s company. Being honest. Doing stuff you don’t care for because it makes them so happy. Going the extra mile. Loving so loudly and proudly it’s embarrassing.
People are imperfect and flawed. But more than that, people are worth it. No matter what kind of relationship you have, whether it’s a sibling, parent, friend, partner, that spark of love is precious and worth all the time in the world.
When it comes down to it, relationships are what we are left with when all of the bullshit of life goes away. Relationships, not money or fame or luck, are what get us through life unscathed. Relationships are the only currency of any true, consistent value.
Tragedy on both a major and minor scale helps us to refocus on the things that matter. How lucky are we that we possess things so valuable that their loss would devastate our existence? How thankful can we be that we actually have something to lose?
As the shock and the pain of this calamity eventually fades, keep the reminders of fierce passion burning bright. There is so much devotion in the world, which is a force more powerful than a bullet and a strength more enduring than the deepest pain. Nothing can stand in the way of pure selfless emotion.
When we are filled with the deepest and truest love, we are unstoppable.