Las Vegas is truly a beautiful city. A week ago, I had the fortunate experience of witnessing the strength and resiliency of this usually bright and joyous place. I had an experience most people did not, bearing witness to the aftermath of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. It is not my intention, however, to focus this piece on the incomprehensible pain and suffering one person caused. Instead, I want to focus on how we can begin the process of healing and moving forward.
The morning I found out about the Las Vegas massacre was one that I will never forget. I, like millions of others, woke up to hearts breaking and suffering around the world. I do not want to get into the details of this event as I am sure that all of you have knowledge of what occurred, however, I would like to share my experience of visiting Las Vegas just two weeks after the attack, what I saw and how it changed me.
Only a few months ago, I went to an open country music festival, and not once did it cross my mind that I should fear for my safety. I have come to recognize that in the wake of this tragedy, this is a luxury we have as Canadians, and I will forever be thankful for that. This is not to say that there is no such thing as gun violence in Canada, which is rightfully condemned. However, it never crossed my mind to be suspicious of those around me or the possibility of someone carrying a weapon capable of murdering or injuring a large number of people.
My family and I were supposed to visit Las Vegas on the weekend two weeks after the shooting. My mother was performing in a competition for Sweet Adeline’s International with her chorus. We were all very excited to take the trip, yet once tragedy struck Vegas, we were at a loss. I was at a loss. After letting the shock of the deadly events on October 1st set in, my second thought was, how am I supposed to enjoy myself and sit at the pool, while only two weeks prior, 58 men and women lost their lives? While hundreds of people still remain in hospitals, injured, mentally and emotionally recovering? How can I do that? How can I relax while families are grieving? I understand that these may seem like selfish thoughts, and they are to an extent, but what I grappled with the most was the question: how does the world just keep going? It seemed cruel and unfair. Time continues on, the wheel keeps turning, and we are left to cope with the loss. I asked myself, how can hotels keep refolding beds and bartenders continue to pour drinks? It is simply unfair. I felt useless and extremely saddened by these thoughts but having the chance to visit the suffering city actually helped me think and heal.
We touched down on the runway in Vegas late at night. The city is truly remarkable at night from the sky, it is like nothing you have ever seen. I felt my heart in my throat when the large, gold, shimmering building of the Mandalay Bay Hotel came into view; the same building I saw on the television many times in the news within the previous weeks. The world stopped. It is almost as if I wasn’t expecting it to still be there, that everything would be different but really, it wasn’t. The next day, walking down the strip and looking up to see the two, ominous boarded-up windows sticking out like sore thumbs, I was sick. Sick with grief and sick with the thought that humans are capable of committing such an act of malice and violence. There are no other words to describe this moment other than surreal.
I knew it would be hard, and I knew in that moment that I would not be able to be at peace with myself if I did not visit the memorial for the victims prior to doing anything else. Visiting the memorial was truly overwhelming. In Canada, we are distanced from events such as these, whether it be through our social media accounts or our televisions. Fifty-eight seems like just a number, but when you walk beside each standing cross, representing a person, an individual, a daughter, a brother, a veteran, the gravity of that moment is so sobering to the point of inconceivability. I know I am young and I am lucky enough to not be familiar with death and the process of grieving, but I have no doubt that the city of Las Vegas will forever be shaken and changed by the events caused by one person. The amount of pain at that memorial cannot be measured, but what I saw and what I really want to say about my time in Vegas are the multiple acts of kindness I witnessed and the astounding amount of love I felt. From a woman lighting candles, to tourists paying their respects, to people leaving flags and flowers, to vendors selling T-Shirts with VEGAS STRONG written on them and people gathering donations to help the families of victims and first responders, the acts were endless. My mother’s chorus, of about a hundred women, taking the time to line up to donate blood, to the police who still stand watch and the first responders, nurses and doctors who are still treating the injured, these are the people and the instances that are making healing from this tragedy possible. From the staff at our hotel who ensured our comfort, the spirit of the people visiting Vegas, to those who live and work there, their resilient attitude was contagious, their kindness spread around every turn. Ads replaced with messages of love, #VegasStrong plastered up on buildings and billboards. People were grieving, people were remembering and people continued to go on living.
That weekend, I came to realize two things: that healing is only possible with the presence of love and compassion and that the human spirit is truly remarkable. As humans, we have an astounding capacity for kindness and in times like these, there are no boundaries that separate us and it is our humanity that brings us together. After tragedy strikes, the world may keep spinning, life will continue, but it is how we rise out of the darkness that defines us. I believe we will continue to rise and keep spreading kindness and compassion with one another. In helping each other, we help heal our communities and ourselves.