On Sunday, October 1, Stephen Paddock fired countless shots into a mass of people gathered to watch a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. 58 people were killed including the shooter, who committed suicide in his hotel room. Approximately 500 additional people were wounded in the incident, which was one of the worst shootings in US history. For more details, you can read one of many articles including this one from the New York Times.
Sunday evening, 57 people who were looking to enjoy a night out with friends or family, who were simply taking in music and having a good time, never came home. Somewhere, 57 families are struggling to find some semblance of reality amidst the noise. If I had lost someone, I would still be in denial. I would be broken, panicked, and numb. Those who lost someone will have to process grief, intense anger at the shooter and the situation, death and loneliness. They will remember this shooting every time they have a family get together, birthdays, anniversaries, and anytime they go to that place they used to go with their loved one. The grief will come in waves, one after another bringing them to their knees in pain and hopelessness. The pain will fade for a moment only to come back. You have permission to grieve for as long as it takes, to be angry and disgusted, and to begin mourning your loved ones. You won’t be who you were ever again, but the wounds will someday heal enough that you will be able to see joy and love again.
Sunday evening 500 people walked through the “Welcome” signs and left with injuries. They have experienced trauma that many of us can’t comprehend. They didn’t just get scared; for a time they had to stare death in the face and will have scars to prove it. All of them may spend time in counseling trying to unlive the horror of that night, trying not to flinch every time they hear a sharp noise. Many will walk away with PTSD, which is commonly only associated with those that have been to war. They were trying to have a great night. Many of them will be completely disoriented by an event that could have ended them. The temptation will be to bury the pain because they survived it when others didn’t. They came out better, right? To those 500, please don’t bury your pain. It is real and legitimate. No comparison can take it away. Find a safe place and get it out before it destroys you. As the Priest Richard Rohr says, “If you don’t transform your pain, you will transmit your pain.” Please, for the sake of the people you still have, invest in your own healing so you can enjoy those you still have.
Sunday, 22,000 people watched in horror as friends, family, or people they had just recently met fell and didn’t get up. They can never unsee the bodies they saw as they ran out of the venue. They can never unhear the screams and the shots, the blood and the horror. They can never undo the trauma they experienced that night. They will never hear fireworks without flinching, never see a crowd without hoping that nothing like that ever happens again. And to them, please know that you made it out alive, but that does not mean you made it out unscathed. Take the time to let your mind and soul heal. You witnessed something that no human should see, initiate, or be any part of. Regardless of how strong you are, that takes a toll. It may not be today or tomorrow, but at some point the depth of the event will hit. Please get help.
Meanwhile, the rest of us look on in horror, yet can still treasure the beauty of everyday things. Last night my son was jumping with me, and ran across the room to give me a hug before he went to sleep. I always love seeing my son like that, but thinking about it today brings tears to my eyes. I don’t want to imagine my life without him or his without me. Those are the best moments that events like this shooting make you treasure, because you know that a number of people can never do those things again, but maybe you can.
Nothing is going to undo Sunday evening. 58 people are not coming back, wounds are not just undone, and thousands of people’s trauma may haunt them for years. I know that events like this tend to incite political fires. They have to. Because of this incident, people will talk about guns, security, violence, etc. These conversations will happen, whether you think they are being avoided or shoved down your throat. But they are not the end.
Tomorrow and the next day you will still wake up. I hope you can add a little compassion to your life. I hope you can hug your loved ones a little longer because you are thankful for them. I hope you can kiss your spouse to let them know you care. I hope you can call a friend to tell them how much they mean to you. I hope you can spread love like a net and envelop those you care about. I hope that the people you love know you love them, and that you know you are loved too. I hope that you can find the time to be thankful for what is in your life instead of running from one thing to the next. I hope you can cultivate thankfulness for whatever and whoever is good in your life.
For the families and friends of those who are not coming back, I’m so sorry. I don’t understand what it feels like, but I imagine it hurts immensely. I’m praying for healing and hope for your soul which has to feel shattered.
For people who were injured, I’m praying for a speedy recovery, and for the space to process the events that occurred on Sunday night. I’m thankful you’re still here.
For those who made it out, I pray for the space to process. You have survived, and there is nothing to feel guilty for. You can’t replace someone who passed away. You are good and we are glad you are still a part of this world.
For the emergency responders, thank you.
And to the rest of us, I pray you can live and love boldly, leaving the world a much better and more whole place than you came into.