Valentine’s Day use to be one of my favorite holidays. Now it will never be the same. As some of you may remember, my son Matthew is a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and was there on the day of the tragedy. I was going to blog on how the year has affected me, Matthew and my family. But I found a letter from a Parkland mom on Facebook which I thought best captured what we as a community have gone through, and still feel one year later. It is long, so I apologize.
One year later, it never goes away.
Before it happened here, it always happened somewhere else. It would be in the news for a few days, a week, maybe a month, then it went away. You didn’t forget about it, it was still something that happened, it just went away for you. You didn’t think about it every day. You didn’t cry about it anymore. It still existed, but it didn’t have power over you, it no longer took an emotional toll.
When it happens in your community it never goes away. You see the people. You see the victims’ families at the grocery store, dry cleaners, community events, on social media, everywhere. You see their pain, their suffering, their loss. Your heart breaks for them every time you see them. You also see the survivors, and everyone in the community is a survivor whether they were there that day or not. I don’t know of a single person in my community who wasn’t directly or indirectly impacted. The survivors all have pain too, and loss, and guilt.
You see survivors still struggling because it never goes away.
You see the places and things that bring back memories. You see the Freshman Building, boarded up but still standing for some unfathomable reason. You see it as a reminder of the horror, the death, the failures, the pain. You see the banners, the memorials, the ribbons on trees. Oh, the ribbons on trees. Do you know how long it takes to drive past 17 ribbons on 17 different trees? Longer than you would think. Long enough for you to think about each ribbon, each person it represents. Long enough for you to think about that terrible day when you first heard the final number, 17. It was an incomprehensibly big number, too big. 17. Now you see the number 17 everywhere. For you, 17 no longer means what you get when you add 14 and 3, it will forever mean 17 people in your hometown died in a place they should have been safe.
You see it everywhere in your hometown, but you also see it when you aren’t expecting it. You see it when you are walking through an airport on the other side of the country and you look up and your friend is on television talking about his daughter who was murdered. You see it when someone asks where you are from and you say Parkland, and they stop, and look at you a little deeper, and you say yes, that Parkland, and they silently look down and nod, or worse yet, they quietly say they are sorry, or worse still, they want to talk with you about it. You see it when someone asks you about your MSD Strong bracelet and you don’t really know what to say. And you realize you could avoid that interaction by going incognito and taking it off, but for some reason you never take it off because you feel it would be a form of betrayal.
So, you see it everywhere, it never goes away. And it’s not that the memory just keeps getting brought back. It’s much worse than that, it truly never goes away. You still think about it every single day, all day long. Sometimes it is right out in front of you, sometimes it is back in the shadows, but it is always there, it never goes away, never. And, when you realize it never goes away in your community, you slowly realize it didn’t go away in any community where it happened, and that is a truly sobering thought. Not in Las Vegas, Orlando, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Sutherland Springs, Aurora, San Bernardino, not in any of the places where it happened, and there are sadly too many to name. You realize it never goes away anywhere it has happened, and the realization that it doesn’t go away anywhere doesn’t give you hope or a sense of some macabre camaraderie, it makes you even more sad.
And it is going to happen again. It has happened again, time and time again. In place after place, it keeps happening. And you wonder why it keeps happening, why can’t it stop, why do there have to be new places where it will happen and it won’t go away for them, like it hasn’t gone away for you. And every time it happens again you feel sad for the people in the community where it happened, because you know what they are feeling, and what they don’t yet know they will feel in the future when they too realize it never goes away. But you also feel sad for your community, because it reminds you once again that it also happened here, and it never goes away.
I don’t have any answers. No grand solution. I wish it would stop. It needs to stop. Thoughts and prayers won’t help, action is needed, but I don’t know what that is. One year later all I know is that once it happens in your community it never goes away, and no community should have to go through that.