A war cry against the purest form of evil. A community rallying against brutal, horrific violence that will forever scar and haunt not only the people of Uvalde but those far beyond its borders who just can’t make sense of the senseless. And who fear that their city will be the next one forced to be “strong.”
While it unarguably takes incomprehensible strength to endure such immense, immeasurable, and insurmountable loss, glorifying suffering makes it no more bearable. #UvaldeStrong. #YourCityStrong. Our go-to hashtag, an automatic and painfully predictable response after every school shooting. It has become cliche, as vain and empty as “thoughts and prayers.”
I do not know what it’s like to lose a family member to violence. For that, I am grateful. But there is also an element of “survivor’s guilt.” Why were those victims taken? Why have their families and community been forced into this hell? I look at my children and feel lucky that it wasn’t us, and then I feel mortified. My family is no better than those of any of the victims. Why did it happen to them? Why did it happen, period.
I do not know what it’s like to lose a child to violence, but I do know what it’s like to be a parent, desperate to wake up from a nightmare that just will not end, no matter how many times I shut my eyes tight, beg and barter with God, or fruitlessly seek meaning that will somehow justify my greatest fear coming true. I know what it’s like to watch the sun set and know that today was the last day I will ever see my child again.
In 2012, I lost my son unexpectedly when he was just six weeks old, and I can’t help but empathize with the parents of the victims in Uvalde, who are just beginning a journey through grief that offers no resolution. There is no destination. There is no hope of making this “right.” It will never be right. It can only be survived.
When my son passed, I didn’t want to be strong. I wanted to fall apart. Over and over again, I felt like my chest was going to explode within my chest, and, many times, I wished that it would. I wasn’t strong. My perseverance was not a notch to add to my belt; it was a crushing burden that I never wanted to carry. When well-meaning friends and family members would commend me on my strength, it hurt.
I didn’t want to be strong. I wanted to collapse. Implode under the unrelenting weight of a reality that just could not be real.
I also think about the parents of the children lost at Sandy Hook Elementary and those of the countless victims of every school shooting before and after December 14, 2012. How it must feel, nearly a decade later—a decade—to watch Tuesday’s events unfold and wonder how the loss of their children was not enough to prevent this from happening again. How have we not had ENOUGH?
These parents are the epitome of strength. They fight tirelessly to effect change, fueled by grief and the undying hope that they can save our children when we didn’t save theirs.
Strength is taking action. It’s taking a single step when our legs are shaking and our hearts are broken. Strength is not just supporting a community in the wake of tragedy, it’s caring enough to carry the load with them, because we cannot carry it for them. It is our job to be strong for them.
What kind of strength are we asking of our neighbors? This isn’t their burden, it is our burden.
— by guest columnist Whitney Alexander