Learning to Heal

02/27/2018

Once something hits the media it spreads quickly, but sometimes I feel as if I’m in a bubble. I rarely check the news, as I am usually immersed in my studies or in the many activities I do on Ohio State’s vast campus. That day, I read my brother’s girlfriend’s snapchat story. It read “Pray for Douglas”. Thinking Douglas was a person, perhaps involved in some terrible accident, I felt bad, and quickly tapped the story off of my phone screen. Later in the middle of a club meeting, I read her most recent story, this time noticing it had the emblem of a high school on the picture. Immediately I texted my brother, who responded with “check the news”. I quickly googled Douglas, only to find that another high school had been shot up. But this time, instead of feeling desensitized, the news hit me like someone threw a brick at my chest.

Last year, my senior year of high school, I experienced tragedy in my town as a freshman girl was hit by a car and died. Her death impacted me greatly for many reasons, and I often flash back to my memories of the day of her death, and the subsequent pain. I will never forget her mother’s face, twisted in pain looking to the sky, perhaps asking God, “why?” I remember hearing from my mother about my middle-school drama teacher breaking down at her wake. He wept over her, clutching her coffin. An image that I remember are her hands. Her long, beautiful hands that I held during the mourning scene after Romeo and Juliet committed suicide in our school play. Those hands that were now cold, folded over her now unmoving chest, on top of the shimmering purpley-blue fabric of the dress she was dressed in for her wake. The same dress she wore for the prom scene in our musical. She would never make it to prom- she was a freshman. I still smile when I recall one of our exchanges in the hallway, when I called her a silly nickname and she laughed, and it continues to bring me comfort that I can remember her smile. I remember talking to someone who used to sit next to her in Spanish class, and I remember breaking down in gym class after seeing someone made a poster saying she was heaven’s volleyball MVP, because she really liked gym class volleyball. I remember so many details, the sounds of weeping, the clicking of the top of a box that her best friend angrily fastened and unfastened as she stared intensely into the void of her unfazed grief, quiet hours, ironic sunshine on the day of her funeral, myriad of emotions, sounds, sights, the continuous unrelenting heartache that fades and resurfaces in cycles of constant time.

“In accordance with the wishes of her family, and as society does, life continued to move forward.”

Her loss affected our community as it permeated school hallways, the media – both personal pages and public news stations, homes, and the streets of my town. For some people, normalcy returned almost instantly, as they did not really know her, but were still affected as part of the community. Perhaps they felt sad, but their life was virtually unchanged. For others it was much different. Everyone in our town noticeably drove slower for months afterwards. Our community mourned through vigils, moments of silence, and songs dedicated to her memory, but in accordance with the wishes of her family, and as society does, life continued to move forward.

When I first came to college, every action I took was driven by trying to distract myself from what happened that year, or out of anxiety of what could happen if something happened to someone in my new community. I still struggle to come to terms with her death, as it is something that I think about when I am sad, but also in the midst of my brightest and happiest moments.

When I clicked one of the many news links in my meeting, I saw that same contorted face as the mother of the girl who died in my town on the face on a blonde woman in one of the pictures. The disconnect I used to feel when hearing about shootings, such as Miami and Las Vegas, was no more. I finally understood what the absence of one person did to a community, to friends, to families. And this time, when clicking on the news stories, the overwhelming grief caused me to be unable to sit up straight anymore, and my physical demeanor slumped.

“My past caused my purpose to shift with a weight of understanding, I felt like I needed to cry, to scream, but more than that, to channel my grief into mobilizing to create political change.”

Someone in my meeting asked me a question, and I broke out a fake smile and quick response. I held up for the rest of my meeting, but I was physically knocked down by the news, and I lost my emotional center. The uneasiness and insurmountable grief that I felt my senior year of high school was revived as a new anger and overwhelming call to action. The understanding of one person’s loss was amplified to that of countless others, and this time, instead of being helpless, confused by the random unfairness of the universe, there could be action. It is impossible to compare the isolated randomness of a death by car accident to that of a school shooting, for students who were just trying to live their everyday routine, who were mercilessly gunned down, but in grappling and coming to terms with a death close to me, I can empathize with the overwhelming pain that the students of Stoneman Douglas feel. My past caused my purpose to shift with a weight of understanding, I felt like I needed to cry, to scream, but more than that, to channel my grief into mobilizing to create political change.

America is sick. Her face is contorted with the grief of parents left behind. Her body is being mutilated by her right index finger holding the trigger of an assault rifle, as her left hand struggles to support her, helping her to attempt to stand, to patch up her wounds and to reason with her right hand. But it is not either of the hands fault, or if anything, it is both, but regardless, it is the America’s brain that is sick. Her logic and governing organ is queasy with age old policies and cacophonous noise of dissenting ideologies. Discordant, almost contradictory, screams leave her throat, as her hands fight before the carnage ensues again.

But who is to blame? Who can heal her hurt?

America. America is doing this to herself. In order to remedy her sickness, she must come to one attitude, unite her voice against her self-harm and put away her weapon. Until then America will continue to inflict the consequences of her illness on herself: on her children, her elementary school students, her high-school students, her college students, her Black people, her Hispanic people, her white people, her Muslim people, her Christian people, her Jewish people, her religious people, her gay people, her straight people, her Minoritized groups, her majority groups, her men, her women, her non-binary, short and tall, until America is filled with so many holes that she can no longer stand tall.

____

Sydney Stewart is a first-year Ohio State student studying strategic communications. She is currently establishing a Platform chapter on-campus, and is very excited to see how Platform grows and makes an impact. She is also involved on-campus with Mount Leadership Society Scholars, Ohio Staters, and Gamma Phi Beta. In her free time, she loves spending time with her friends, singing and cats.