Today I'm happy to have as my guest Destiny Teasley, who was my grad-school writing student at the time of the Las Vegas shootings. Please listen carefully....
On October 1, 2017, a mass shooting took place in the center of my city, Las Vegas, Nevada. Fifty-eight people were killed and more than 850 suffered physical injuries. Two years have now passed. And here are five things my community has learned in that time:
1. Life goes on. And that is positive and negative. Encouraging and insulting. As a community we have become well-acquainted with the challenge of helping others to navigate the precarious tightrope between mourning and living. In this broken world we attempt to strike a balance between acknowledging one’s pain and encouraging one’s healing. Slow and delicate is the order of the day.
2. Not all scars are visible. I was reminded of this reality during a recent appointment with my hairstylist. Over the past few years, my visits to her have been filled with pleasantries amidst the scent of salon shampoo and hairspray. On my last visit an overheard conversation made me realize that she is a survivor and has been in regular therapy sessions since the shooting. It is easy to forget about or miss the walking wounded.
My brother’s friend (a first responder at the shooting) needed help this past Fourth of July. And he wasn’t the only one. I learned that people all across our valley huddled in their bedrooms, battling extra doses of anxiety at the prospect of the sounds of fireworks triggering traumatic memories and reactions. You never know what someone is going through.
My hope is that revelations like these are causing a little tenderness to grow in our collective hearts.
3. People want community (but we’re not inherently good at it). The plethora of “Vegas Strong” car decals and t-shirts that drape our town tell of our desire for community. We want it, but it is against our nature to sustain it for long with very many people. That is why we must point people to the One who sticks closer than a brother. The past two years have taught us in new ways that, above all else, humans were designed for and long for relationship with the triune God. Good-intentioned though we may be, we are flawed and limited creatures. We are blessed to be able to partner with and point to the unlimited One capable and willing to never leave nor forsake.
We are not meant to carry everyone’s burdens. We can cast all our cares about others’ cares on Jesus. And then love.
4. Horrific things happen all the time. The magnitude of the mass shooting offered a new light through which to see that people are suffering great loss every day in this harsh world. Within a twelve-month period surrounding the Las Vegas massacre, I attended six funerals unrelated to the shooting. No one death was greater than the others. The agony felt by the son whose mother was killed by bullets alongside fifty-seven others panged just as hollow and gnawing as the agony felt by the son whose mother’s life ended a few days earlier at the hands of an unexpected infection in the solitude of a hospital room.
The massive amounts of local (and national and international) acknowledgment and support and prayers and love and donations and attention and services offered to family and friends of the fifty-eight slain and the hundreds injured was extraordinary. And it is good. But it also stood in stark contrast to a classmate who lost her husband around the same time to a sudden heart attack and has had to walk these past two years alone, caring for her severely disabled daughter and having to fight for the money due her from a military pension. Instead of being presented with an oversized check by the local Toyota dealership on the 5 o’clock news, she received a plain envelope in the mail containing notice that her husband’s social security had been stopped and she would have no money with which to make her car payments. Not only would she have to fight a years-long battle, there were no t-shirts nor commemoration concerts to comfort her on the anniversary of her husband’s death.
To be sure, I love the care and recognition of the value of life that the mass shooting has generated in my community. It is good, good, good.
We can’t mourn for and meet the needs of every person who is suffering. But we can and should be intentional about fostering sensitive, compassionate, and open eyes.
5. People are more open than you might think to love and the gospel. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, I found myself surprised that I had not heard about any hostility toward God or His followers. I guess I had been bracing myself for a torrent of “How could God allow this?!” or “Why would anyone believe in a God who lets this happen?!” Instead, I witnessed numerous public gatherings of pastors and other believers all over the city and the local TV networks attracting crowds while standing in silence, praying, lamenting, and singing hymns. Church services were full. Our city’s largest congregation even created a whole new ministry after thousands of people showed up to a special event they had for survivors, first responders, and their families.
We do not have to have all the answers. So we must be slow to speak. Quick to listen. Weep with those who weep. Mourn with those who mourn. Do it all drenched in love.
It’s been a wonder to behold how little bits of love radiate in darkness and draw in hungry and hurting souls.
Destiny Teasley lives in Las Vegas, where she is a lover of pop culture, the arts, and travel (you'll often find her daydreaming about Israel or Disneyland). She delights in encountering beauty in the world and helping others to see and celebrate it. Destiny has studied at Baylor University, UNLV, Oxford, and Dallas Theological Seminary. You can find more of her writing at her blog, When the Rocks Cry Out.