As entries from my old, defunct blog at blog-city become relevant to my friends from Sandy Hook, they will find their way into my new blog. I wrote this after the Red Lake tragedy, but I’m reposting for the Sandy Hookers:
Red Lake 3/27/05
This is not even remotely writing related, but I have such an intimate connection that the Red Lake, MN community is all I can think about today. But the connection doesn’t feel as close as it would have six years ago, or even three years ago. Just as I am no longer who I was before the shootings at my school, neither am I who I was when I was still so totally drowning in the tragedy.
I do remember wanting so much to talk to someone who had been through it. I would have given anything to be able to sit down with someone from Jonesboro or somewhere like that. I wanted to know that there really was light somewhere at the end of the tunnel. Now, I wish that I could talk to the teachers at Red Lake. I would tell them that it’s a long row to hoe. They (whoever “they” were) told us, right after the shootings, “This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” God, truer words never spoken.
I’d tell the folks in Red Lake that there will be so many days that you are sure you are going to break to your knees and just spend the rest of your life kneeling in the dust, puking. You will be so damned angry when you have to keep pulling yourself to your feet again because people keep expecting you to go on living. It gets easier, though. And then it gets hard again. You want to give up and no one will let you. Honestly, it’s like that for years. And then you start to find that you can live with it. You never get over it, but you can live with it.
Finally, you reach a point where you can walk away from it. It’s still there with you, always—every day—but it’s on the periphery. It’s a place you stumble across unaware more and more rarely. You know where it is and get better at avoiding it. Unless you want to go and visit, stand at the edge and look it all over. It’s familiar territory in your soul, but it feels different each time you go back. After a while, you can let go of all the useless questions and futile wishes that it could have been prevented. In time, you understand that it’s senseless to beat yourself or anyone else up over it.
It’s like going back to stand on the bank of a lake you nearly drowned in once—a lake that took people you love. You can choose to go in again or not, but you’re not drowning anymore, and you have to work to remember the exact inflection of their voices, their quirky gestures, their smiles. I know so intimately what those teachers and students are going through at this minute. They still aren’t entirely convinced it isn’t a dream. There’s still a part of them waiting to wake up. They are clinging to each other and pushing away well-meaning outsiders. They feel violated by the media. They feel so helpless and sad and angry. They are looking around at their community, and it seems at once familiar and strange, because they have changed, and they will never see the world the same way again.
This, too, they will come to live with. The survivors among them will even find an odd comfort in it. It’s impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t been through it. Soon, the rest of America will begin to point their fingers at whatever they believe was “wrong” with the Red Lake community. They’ll come up with inane theories about Native American culture or the Neo-Nazi connection or stick a microscope into the boy’s dead grandfather’s life and the way he was raising his grandson. I won’t be listening. We are members of the same club, but I am not a member of their community. I may understand what they are going through more intimately than most of the rest of the country, but I wasn’t there, and I am not one of them, and I cannot begin to judge.
There are so many people affected by this. Teachers’ marriages will go on the rocks, and their spouses will want to shake them until their teeth rattle to “snap them out of it.” Community members will see profound changes in their young people. Some changes will make them sad, others will seem like changes for the better. Those changes won’t last. The bonding, openness, caring, will gradually fade as the kids who experienced this grow up and move on, and the new teens become normal kids with all the old issues. This brings its own pain and frustration—a sense of losing what good there was to be gained.
All I can do is pray, and I know what to pray for. I pray that the people of Red Lake will dig deep and find a wellspring of courage and strength they never knew they possessed. I pray that they will find the ability to remain compassionate toward each other, despite the soul-searing agony each of them is experiencing individually. I pray that they will be able to keep their eyes inward, and not allow the rest of the world, people who do not know them and only think they understand them, to define them. For the families of the victims, I pray that they can find some comfort and some positive way to channel their pain and anger.
At the same time, I know that’s a tall order. I know this is a long and rather depressing entry. I apologize for that. I guess I’d just like to wrap it up by wishing you all well. We all have things in our lives that we’ve had to rise above. I’ll be sending out an extra prayer for everyone who could use a little comfort and a little extra strength. Peace be with you.