Within minutes, my dorm room went from a sunny place to relax, to something that resembled a basement shelter. Within minutes, the building where I attend math class twice a week had turned into a horrific crime scene. And within an hour, the What are you doing over the summer?’s turned into Where were you when it happened?
It. Where were you when it happened? You never think it would happen at your school. Two days have passed since it happened.
It was more than a shooting. It was a stranger, armed with a shotgun, a knife, and rounds of bullets, with the intention of hurting as many of my friends as possible. It was the building monitor, Jon Meis, who pepper sprayed him and tackled him to the ground. It was the professors who put the victims’ heads in their laps. It was the police officers who responded to the scene within four minutes of the first gunshot.
It was the students in the dorms quickly accounting for everyone who was in their rooms. It was all of the women on my floor, gathered together in one room, watching the news. It was our family, friends, and distant acquaintances calling and texting us to make sure that we were okay.
Within hours, the cafeteria had been designated as a place for grief counseling. Within hours, a prayer service was scheduled to take place at the church across the street. Within hours, my co-workers were working hard, writing pieces, taking photos, and tweeting, for our school’s newspaper.
But somehow, it all feels like a terrifyingly surreal dream. It feels like trying to run a marathon when you’re stuck in quicksand. There’s something about not physically being there; I was in my room when the first shot was fired. My roommate closed the blinds, turned off the lights, locked the door. I watched the news coverage and constantly refreshed my Twitter feed. I listened to the sirens scream and the helicopters whirr.
I wasn’t hiding under a desk in a classroom, listening to the screams and wails of my classmates. I wasn’t escorted across blood-stained carpet, or searched by the police. I wasn’t interviewed by the local news.
When I returned to Otto Miller Hall on the evening of June 5, it looked like a set from a Bourne movie. Caution tape, forensics and news vans, and a couple police cars remained. Surely, this didn’t happen here.
But as my friend laid a bouquet of flowers at the base of the stoplight, I was reminded: it happened here. As a woman knelt at our feet lighting candles, asking if the victims were our friends, as we replied that we didn’t know yet, I was reminded. As my friends gathered in the middle of campus at midnight for a candlelight vigil, I was reminded. As counselors sat in lawn chairs in residence hall lobbies ready to talk to students, I was reminded. It happened here.
Within a day, the police cars and news cameras were nowhere to be seen. Within a day, Seattle Pacific University had stopped trending on Twitter and Facebook. Within a day, people moved on with their lives.
There are still so many questions. How is it possible for Paul Lee, my classmate who would laugh with me about how lame math is, to be gone? What is the correct and most respectful angle to take when reporting on these events for our university’s newspaper? What if I had gone to Otto Miller early to study for my final that was scheduled at 5pm that day? I still cannot comprehend the fact that I may be designing the page of The Falcon that holds Paul’s obituary, and sending it off to the printer.
On the other hand, there are different kinds of questions. How am I so lucky to live in a community where worship and prayer is the immediate response to tragedy? Where, along the timeline of my life, did I accumulate so many friends, teachers, and mentors, who messaged me the moment they heard the news? How did I choose a small school, where my classmates are not merely people, but family members?
No one talks about how appreciative you become in the midst of mourning. No one tells you about how grateful you are for genuine laughter in the shadow of grief. The news stations don’t tell you about how much stronger a community becomes after experiencing something this horrible. The journalists don’t tell you about how much more thankful you become for the people surrounding you, and the life you have.
We are here. We are mourning. We will never understand.
But Paul is dancing.