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Making tragedy personal

Apr. 25, 2018
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Image of Waffle House shooting victims, from top to bottom, left to right: DeEbony Groves, Joe Perez, Akilah DaSilva and Taurean Sanderlin.

Another white dude shot up a public place—a Waffle House in Tennessee—three nights ago. I hate that I can write that so casually. Even worse, I hate that I am not surprised at all. My heart feels broken, but in the way that it aches when I hear someone’s grandma has died. At the news of someone’s grandma dying, of course I feel sad—it’s human. What doesn’t feel right is the fact that mindess acts of killing elicit the same feeling in me that someone’s grandma’s death would. I expect people’s grandmas to die. It’s a fact of life. Obviously I don’t like it, but it’s just something that happens, something that I acknowledge and then move on from because I know it will happen again. The fact that I’ve grown to feel this way about random shootings makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t want to treat the murder of innocent people by the hand of a white man with a gun as something that just happens. It shouldn’t be happening at all.

My blasé attitude and passivity quickly turned to rage after hearing the news—first inward at myself for not feeling the appropriate amount of anger at a situation like this, then externally to my country, my lawmakers, and the people who continue to allow senseless murder to be the norm. I think in situations like this, it’s natural to feel some sense of relief, relief from the fact that the tragedy didn’t happen to you… not this time, anyway. In order to channel that relief into rage from which to enact change, I did what we all typically tend to do in times of great loss and disaster: I made it about myself. By making it personal, a tragedy becomes more than just an event that happened to someone else that you saw on the news before flipping channels to go back to your comfortable bubble. I’m not saying this is a despicable response by any means; I’ve found myself doing this time and time again because, rather than facing the reality of the horror that life can produce, it feels safer for me to push it away. I’d rather numb my feelings, so I don’t have to deal with the constant ache of reality. That being said, I think pushing these feelings away can be a form of self-care, and there is absolute validity in putting yourself first for the sake of your own health and well-being.

However, this wasn’t one of those instances deserving of self-care for me. Instead, I sat with the shocking news. Processed it. Internalized it. Then, I began making connections. The shooting happened in a Waffle House. I used to eat there frequently, having spent almost four years living in the South. It happened in Tennessee in the middle of the night. I have made countless drives from Illinois to Georgia and back, during which I passed through Tennessee, typically in the middle of the night because it’s an easy halfway point at which to stop. Just a few weeks ago while making the drive, I pulled into a gas station across from a Waffle House. As I filled up my gas tank, I thought that I might stop in Waffle House to have a meal before calling it a night. Something in me decided not to go in for a meal, and I continued driving. I think of the four people that lost their lives. I equated it to my four closest friends. That could have been them in that Waffle House. Gone. The shooter was from Illinois. My home state. He drove a pick-up truck. In my aforementioned drive down to Georgia, I was alone when I stopped to go into that gas station in the middle of the night. Young white boys in a pick-up truck pulled into the spot next to me. They had stickers on the back of their truck relating to Confederate flags and guns. I shuddered as I went inside, then came out to find that they were still parked next to my car. My whole body tensed, wondering if they had a gun in their truck, wondering if I would make it out of that gas station parking lot alive. I did—I couldn’t help but question, what if I didn’t? 

In situations like this, I feel helpless. The helplessness is becoming my new norm as shooting are occurring more frequently. My head is screaming, I. AM. NOT. OKAY. WITH. THIS. but doesn’t know how to make it stop. I Googled “how to enact gun control” and saw about 42,100,000 results. I soon realized that simply having conversations about gun control isn’t enough. I can’t continue letting tragedy happen to others knowing there are viable measures to be taken to prevent any more futile deaths by guns. It’s time to start demanding gun reform and stricter laws and not settling until we get them because this time, it’s personal.