The human mind has the uncanny, and truth be told, sometimes unwanted ability to recall the dates of tragic moments like permanent tattoos that can never be washed off. Ask any American and depending on their age, they can tell you where they were or what they were doing when they first heard of the assassinations of JFK or MLK, or the untimely deaths of Elvis, Michael, Whitney or Lady Diana, or that day in September, 9/11. Today marks the one-year anniversary of what we refer to as 1 October here in Las Vegas, a day in which evil was unleashed on our city resulting in fifty-eight deaths, over five hundred injuries and scores of people permanently disfigured or paralyzed. It is a day when all of us can tell you where we were when we saw the first Breaking News reports.
A sea of thousands had descended on Las Vegas for the Route 91 Music Festival. Jason Aldeen was performing on stage when the first series of “pops” were heard. Many at first believed them to be firecrackers set off by rowdy concert-goers. But when some noticed that their friends who were standing next to them just a second before were now laying at their feet in a pool of blood, the reality of the situation became evident as panic set in. A sniper was unleashing a hail of bullets from a semi-automatic weapon with a bump stock on them from some unknown position, and the throngs of fans had nowhere to take cover. Ordinary people became unsuspecting heroes, giving their lives that day to protect others from the gunfire. Some were wounded because they simply chose to stay by the sides of people they didn’t know so they wouldn’t die alone. As a parent my first thought was dear God, where are my kids? My youngest son was employed at the time at the same hotel property where the sniper was perched. I could not rest easy until I had made contact with all my boys and was assured they were not in harm’s way. Many parents could not and would not be able to make such confirmation. Our city was forever changed on 1 October.
As the popular song lyrics remind us, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger! This tragedy affected everyone here. It seems we all had some connection to people who were in attendance. And those who didn’t still grieved deeply and sympathized with those who had suffered such tremendous loss. Those who died that evening were young, in their prime, full of hopes and dreams never to be realized. The outpouring of support, of aid, of “what can I do” attitudes was infectious and on display for the world to witness. Local blood banks had to eventually turn people away as lines formed blocks long to donate blood for the victims. Those not donating took time off to provide food and water for those in line as many would spend 8-10 hours to donate their blood. Las Vegas became #vegasstrong when tragedy came calling. For us, 1 October will be forever etched in our memories.
All of us, if we have lived at all, will have dates from our past that we pause and commemorate, the birth of a child or grandchild, the day we married our forever life partner, the year we received our diplomas or degrees-dates we celebrate fondly and with festivity. However, we will also have those more solemn infamous dates that we may try to forget to no avail. The pain we manage to keep controlled 364 days of thee year becomes fresh wounds on that one day we can’t escape. It might be the day when you had to say goodbye to your parent as they were laid to rest or a spouse who died before their time. It might be the day your family became torn apart when the parents decided to go their separate ways. It might be a day when you were a victim of some horrible crime against you or your family. For many, it could be the day when you lost your best friend and companion through divorce. What was once celebrated birthdays and anniversaries are now reminders of an empty chair at the dining room table; a day filled with joy as two people come together in marriage is now a day when you hide after the relationship is over. We all have similar stories, dates we wish would never be brought to memory that instead hunt us down like movie haunts, constantly tormenting us with no mercy. We may rid ourselves of videos, photos-anything that brings to memory events that we no longer celebrate, in some vain attempt for a sense of peace over tragedies for which there is never any real closure.
How do we cope with such tragic events as survivors of events we never wanted or saw coming? Where do we find hope to continue on a journey when every fiber of our being finds it easier to just give up and give in? A Prophet in the Old Testament, Jeremiah, was in anguish as he witnessed the destruction of his beloved city. His sentiments are recorded for us in the seldom read-from book of Lamentations. He inquired of God many of the same questions we ask in the midst of trials and suffering. And yet, his knowledge of God’s character would override his fear of his circumstances. Listen to his words in Lamentations 3 from the Message Translation:
“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all-oh how well I remember-the feeling of hitting bottom. But there’s one thing I remember, and remembering, I keep grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great is your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. – I called out your name, O God, from the bottom of the pit. You listened when I called out “don’t shut your ears, get me out of here-save me”. You came close when I called out. You said, “Its going to be alright!”
I am no stranger to unsolicited tragedy. I am perhaps overly transparent in my anguish over events in my personal life over the past few years. Some have advised that I be less open and more discreet in my writings or my social media posts. Some of my closer friends and even family have disconnected from me over my overt disclosures as I wrestle with change. But these types of writings are not employed as sympathy-seeking compositions, but rather glimpses into struggles endured through hope like that of Jeremiah. I write so that others may know that they are not alone in their tears and that there is light and recovery attainable through a supernatural peace given to us by God even when we can’t sense his presence or determine his twisted ways of teaching. I’ve said many times before that I would never in a million years volunteer to be God’s toy of illustration-I’d rather have been overlooked-I would have been perfectly okay entering my reward with no more than a kindergarten education in spiritual maturity. But that wasn’t the plan. I am instead chosen to be a virtual learning device for others and an encouragement to anyone watching. The lesson being taught on this 1 October anniversary is that there is hope after loss, there is life after all but physical death, there is restoration after mass destruction, and there is beauty to be formed in the ashes.
Today, how I wish I could personally hug every person who suffered such tragic losses one year ago, but it’s logistically impossible. I would want them to know they are not alone, their losses are a part of our forever history, and our love for them and that of our heavenly Father knows no bounds. We will all remember and cope with today in our own way, through memorial services, through watching recaps of that tragic night, through prayer for healing and comfort for all involved. My personal prayer for my family, my kids, and all who have been touched by days they wish were not a part of their history, is that the God who preserves would keep their hearts and minds in perfect peace, a peace that can only come from a relationship with Him, and a peace that surpasses all our understanding. I pray that the lingering fear resulting from tragic events that seek to paralyze us and hold us hostage would be overcome with love, as God’s perfect love casts down all fear. I pray that hearts destroyed and void of hope will find a renewed sense of courage and purpose in moving forward so that all may see that there is life abundantly after passing through the valley of shadows and death. And I pray that as I write in detail about my personal struggles with doubt, with faith, with hopelessness and hurt, that others will be encouraged to fight, to endure, to press on through the pain knowing that the story never ends as long as we have breath, and that we have the ability to dictate the words that form the chapters of our biographies. Today we remember, and we move forward. #vegasstrong, #vegasstronger. God bless each of you.