One website told me to be kind, to treat each day as a precious gift, to practice random acts of kindness and to curtail my intake of media. Another told me I had untapped potential, that I needed to stay positive and keep working towards happiness. I tried to click to the next website, but the thought of more empty cliches made me physically ill. These words could not fill the holes left in me after a week of grief, let alone heal a community and nation still reeling from heartrending events.
Lauren McCluskey did everything right. She loved her family, performed well in school and was a valued member of the University of Utah track team. With her graduation date approaching in the spring, she was considering her next steps. Maybe she would become an academic advisor or work in public relations. On Oct. 22, 2018, she was senselessly murdered and the discussion of her future stopped. No trite phrase like “bad things happen to good people” can replace this daughter, sister, teammate, friend or peer. However, her obituary ended with the simple phrase, “Let her light shine.”
Judah Samet was four minutes late for temple. He typically arrives sharply at 9:45 a.m. to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, but this last Saturday he was delayed by a conversation with his housekeeper. His tardiness saved him from the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in United States history, but 11 of his friends lost their lives. Sadly, Samet is no stranger to anti-semitic violence. As a child, he survived 10 months in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and was going to Auschwitz when the Allied Forces liberated Poland. When asked how he would cope after the massacre, Samet simply replied, “How did I handle the Holocaust? You got to go on.”
I was not a victim of domestic violence or of a hate crime last week, but I spent the week in tears. A young girl in my life confided in me that she has been unable to make friends at school and has been struggling with suicidal thoughts for the past three years. My friend sent me a letter about how debilitating her recent diagnosis of depression has been. My mother called and broke down, overwhelmed by the daunting task of teaching her fifth graders who struggle to understand her. While the stress and grief I experienced has no parallel to that of McCluskey’s family and friends or Judah Samet, it was real and it was crippling.
There is no “one size fits all” solution to grief and healing is never instantaneous. In some cases, this healing never truly occurs. Understanding this, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in his masterpiece “Return of the King,” “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.” McCluskey’s death has left a mark at the U. The Tree of Life massacre has left a mark on the nation and my past week has marked me.
McCluskey’s parents created a scholarship in her name, and thus far over $40,000 has been raised to support student athletes. Members of her congregation turned to God for a “double portion of peace” after her death. U President Ruth Watkins has announced an outside investigator will review the campus police department’s protocols.
Judah Samet turned to God after the death of his friends, “I didn’t lose the faith in humanity, I know not to depend on humanity.” Magda Brown, a Holocaust survivor scheduled to speak in Pittsburgh, was boarding the plane from O’Hare to Pittsburgh when she received a call telling her of the massacre. She boarded the plane and continued with her scheduled speaking event as “now, more than ever, the world [needed] to hear [her] testimony.” Leaders in the Jewish community and the community of Pittsburgh at large called on President Donald Trump to denounce white supremacists and to stop his own inflammatory, and often racist, rhetoric.
The young girl in my life started visiting her school psychologist and invited the girls she attends with to go trick-or-treating with her this Halloween. My friend is meeting with her own psychologist, building a support system and working steadily towards bettering her mental health. My mother took time for herself before beginning the huge undertaking of filling the gaps in her young students’ understanding. I reached out to friends and family members for advice and comfort.
As a child, my mother read me then-Senator Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope.” While I do not remember much about this family read-aloud, the title has stuck with me. In a world filled with fear and hate, hope is audacious. Obama later revisited this message in his 2008 inaugural presidential address, “Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”