Thousand Oaks remains a place for hope

The article I planned to publish this week was titled “Things are not as broken as they seem,” and I ended it with this statement: “I believe there are too many good people out there for things to truly shatter. I wish with everything I’ve got that I’m not proved wrong.”

The day after I wrote these words, things did shatter. They shattered in a way I could never have imagined, as I saw my community added to a list that no one wants to be on: a list of communities impacted by mass shootings. The world only fractured more as wildfires started burning on both sides of campus, and students were put on evacuation standby. So much has changed in this city in the past week. The point of my original article however, has not, and that is this: Thousand Oaks remains a reason for hope.

Last Tuesday I looked in my planner, and, for the first time all year, did not see a never-ending list of things to do. Because I’m the odd sort of person who hates having free time, I decided that I would write an article for Her Campus. I haven’t been on writing team since last fall, but I’d been missing the opportunity to write about and share whatever was on my mind. And a lot had been on my mind lately.

Namely, I’d been feeling really positive about the way life was going. Yes, I was busy, but I was busy doing things I loved. I was passionate about what I was learning in my classes, things were going smoothly at my job, I was enjoying reporting on local events for “The Echo” campus newspaper, and I’d been keeping up with my hobbies, including running, cooking, and hiking. Perhaps most significantly, I was finally feeling at home in Thousand Oaks. I've lived here for over two years now, but still considered my hometown of Seattle to be my true home, and I found it hard to compare the two cities. However, as I'd deepened my involvement in the local community this semester, I’d begun to see just how incredible of a community I was lucky enough to be a part of. 

Tuesday was election night, and with all these positive emotions in my mind I set out to write an article about how Thousand Oaks makes me think that “things are not as broken as they seem” when it comes to national politics. I wrote about my interactions with the community through “The Echo,” which included getting involved with local politics through interviewing the Thousand Oaks mayor, covering a League of Women Voters’ event, and exchanging emails with Congresswomen Julia Brownley. All of the conversations I’ve had as a reporter made me realize that “while it’s easy to get cynical about politics when you’re sitting and reading the latest news online… there are so many people out there who truly care about fostering a better community, a better nation, and a better world.” I stated that these interactions left me believing that “Americans still, for the most part, prioritize compassion over polarization,” and that not one conversation “left me feeling hopeless, or like we live in a broken society.” Finally, I concluded that “We may live in a peaceful bubble of a community. But I have faith that most of us, nationwide, can still agree on basic principles of kindness, civility, and the desire to make the world a more positive place.”

Then Wednesday night happened.

On Wednesday night my roommates and I huddled on the couch and watched confused and terrified as the tagline “mass shooting at Thousand Oaks bar” scrolled across the news. I called my friends in panic as I realized their location showed them as being at Borderline, almost crying in relief when they picked up their phones. It was unclear what happened at that point. We stayed up as late as we could, trying to figure out the extent of the damage. Of course, it wasn’t until the morning when we realized that it was so much worse than our worse fears.

Image credit: Pixabay. 

There are really no words for the grief our community felt on Thursday morning- and still feels, and will continue to feel- so I won’t attempt to find them. What I do know is that when in the evening fires started burning on both sides of us, it felt like a side note. Like a distraction from our opportunity to mourn.

A lot has changed in Thousand Oaks since last Tuesday evening, when I optimistically decided to take on even more to do and write about how “something has me feeling that we’re going to be alright.” But one thing that has not changed is the fact that this city makes me feel hope. In fact, despite the devastation of this past week, that feeling has only increased.

In the wake of disaster, our community turned to each other immediately. No one had to tell us be with one another—we were already there. On Thursday morning at a chapel service we held on to one another in tears as President Kimball informed us that we had lost Justin Meek, who heroically saved lives during the attack. That evening, we again gathered in chapel, filling every seat and aisle as we began the process of grieving together, and prayed for the Meek family and the families of the other victims. Although the fires interrupted community events planned for the next few days, I still felt the support of our administration, ministry, and fellow students during the worst of long weekends.

Image credit: Pixabay

The events of the past few days have changed our campus and city forever. We will never forget what happened at Borderline. We will not let it be overshadowed by the fires, we will not let people say “another day, another shooting.” Because it was not another shooting to us, and sadly we now know the pain of the communities that have also endured this kind of tragedy, and will never become “desensitized” to it. But the light in all this darkness is that the goodness that inspired me to write last week shines only brighter. People in Thousand Oaks care. In my original article I joked about how people care so much they hold public hearings over Cal Lutheran not having matching signage, and write letters to the editor over a new 7/11 being constructed. Now it's clear that people’s dedication to this community stretches through tragedy as well. Just look at the hours long wait to donate blood at La Reina High School, or the fundraisers for families of the victims that had their goals met, then vastly exceeded, in mere hours. People here care deeply for their city and their neighbors.

Even in the shadow of catastrophe, that’s as good a reason as any to have hope for the future.

I began my original article with a stanza from the poem “There, There, Grieving” by Zeina Hashem Beck. It’s one of my favorite poems, and in the context I used it last week I thought it spoke toward how even if in the wider world things feel broken, on a community level life goes on. I think it takes on a new, and even more powerful meaning following the events of the past week, and I’d like to leave you with the poem in its entirety:

There, There, Grieving

By Zeina Hashem Beck

             Where are you from?

                     There.

             Where are you headed?

                     There.

             What are you doing?

                     Grieving.

                           —Rabia Al-Adawiyya

Little brother, we are all grieving

& galaxy & goodbye. Once, I climbed inside

the old clock tower of my hometown

& found a dead bird, bathed in broken light,

like a little christ.

 

Little christ of our hearts, I know

planets light-years away

are under our tongues. We’ve tasted them.

We’ve climbed the staircases saying, There, there.

 

Little brother, we are all praying. Every morning,

I read out loud but not loud enough

to alarm anyone. Once, my love said, Please

open the door. I can hear you talk. Open the door.

 

Little christ of our hearts, tell anyone

you’ve been talking to god & see

what happens. Every day,

I open the door. I do it by looking

at my daughter on a swing—

eyes closed & crinkled, teeth bare.

I say, Good morning good morning you

little beating thing.

 

Little brother, we are all humming.

More & more, as I read, I sound

like my father with his book of prayers,

turning pages in his bed—a hymn

for each day of the week, a gift

from his mother, who taught me

the ten of diamonds is a win, left me

her loose prayer clothes. Bismillah.

 

Little christ of our hearts, forgive me,

for I loved eating the birds with lemon,

& the sound of their tiny bones. But I couldn’t

stomach the eyes of the fried fish.

 

Little brother, we are always hungry.

Here, this watermelon. Here, some salt

for the tomatoes. Here, this song

for the dead birds in time boxes,

& the living. That day in the clock tower,

I saw the city too, below—

 

             the merchants who call, the blue awnings,

             the corn carts, the clotheslines, the heat,

             the gears that turn, & the remembering.