4 Surprising Truths from the Las Vegas Shooting
#2: Community is healing.
Posted September 28, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- The Las Vegas shooting teaches us surprising truths about life, death, and love.
- Making meaning from suffering is a human need.
- Trauma can forge new relationships and strengthen old ones.
Trigger warning: this piece contains details about mass shooting events that might trigger some readers.
I’m sitting on a three-seater couch in our little Las Vegas condo watching TV with my husband. I’m about to go upstairs to sleep. My phone buzzes. It is one of my best friends, telling me to turn on the news. I laugh. I think, “Wow, I bet they’re covering some stupid stunt on the strip.”
My husband gets a text. He turns to me and says “Something’s happened.”
My face falls.
With approximately one mass shooting occurring per day in America, it’s a huge surprise that “shooting” doesn’t immediately come to mind. But I honestly can’t think what could be so urgent for me to turn on the television at 10:30 pm.
We turn on the news. At first, the newscasters are being vague about what is happening. They’re calling it “a situation” on the strip. I still feel confused.
And then we see the footage. I think, “I have friends there.” I think, “I almost was there.”
And I know immediately that I will be forever connected to a transient city that is most known for its parties and gambling.
At about 11:30 pm, after watching the news for about an hour, we learned that about 50 people were shot, and two were dead. It was horribly sad, but not out of the realm of "normal” for America. I went to sleep. I woke up to 58 dead and 500+ injured by gunshots. I went through my day, numb, as my brain somehow tried to make sense of the deadliest shooting in United States history practically in my backyard.
I felt the weight of that event heavily in days, months, and now years afterward. I give my absolute deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones and those whose lives were forever changed by those events.
I never imagined that I would continue to carry this event with me. Looking back, I now understand that this experience transformed the way I think about trauma, community, shared humanity, and the fragility of human life. Here are the valuable lessons I learned about life, death, and love in the aftermath of October 1.
Human life is fleeting
Many of us go through life without needing to immediately confront our mortality. But experiencing or even witnessing a traumatic event changes us. It is terrifying to suddenly, after an acute event, be aware of the fragility and finality of life.
And yet, our human nature is defined by the finite time we are on this earth.
In many ways, the transience of the human condition mirrors the transience of the city that experienced this tragic loss. Las Vegas is the party capital of the world. People travel from all over to experience the vacation of a lifetime — and then they leave. The people of Las Vegas are always moving, always passing through. The state of the city changes extremely quickly.
The human condition is similarly transient. We are born and quickly hit a succession of developmental milestones. We only stay at certain ages and phases for short periods of time, and then we move on. We grow. And throughout that process, emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations come and go. They waft in and out of the seasons of our life.
Most of us aim to cram as many activities, relationships, and experiences into the finite time we have on this earth. And we have such a short time to make an impact.
When tragedy strikes, we confront our mortality. We acknowledge that life is finite. We shift our mindset to prioritize what is important to us. For me, it was shifting my mind off my career and taking time to attend to my relationships. To enjoy nature. To take a deep breath and spend time in gratefulness and appreciation.
What do you value that you want to prioritize in your short time in this world? What mark do you want to leave?
Community is healing
In its darkest hour, the entire city mobilized over a shared cause.
Prominent first responders, psychologists, physicians, and more were called upon to leave their houses in the middle of the night to offer crisis intervention. People drove complete strangers bleeding from gunshot wounds to hospitals. In the days following, blood banks were overwhelmed by the overflow of willing donors. Psychologists and other professionals offered free services. Candlelight vigils were held all over Las Vegas and surrounding areas.
It still astounds me to think that complete strangers halted their lives to selflessly help others. An entire city acknowledged that all of us were connected through our shared humanity. Professionals and businesses were not concerned with efficiency or profits — they were simply concerned with alleviating the shared suffering of a community.
I have never felt more connected to my broader community. And now I understand that when people unite and move in the same direction, anything is possible.
Trauma can forge new relationships and strengthen old ones
When this tragedy happened, I leaned heavily on my relationships. We cried together, attended vigils together, and connected through heartbreak. We were each other’s support systems during a time when it felt like there was nothing supporting the ground under us.
Going through difficult times with your friends, family, and community feels tumultuous and overwhelming. But a repair after a rupture is sometimes stronger than if there had never been a rupture in the first place. As Hemingway said, we are stronger at the broken places.
The relationships between my Las Vegas friends and family and I are stronger because we have suffered. And I will hold them more tightly because of it.
The need to make meaning from suffering
I find it really invalidating when people encourage you to “see the bright side” of your traumatic experience. Traumatic experiences are incredibly painful and take strength to simply survive. This post is not meant to be about positive takeaways. However, making meaning can help us tolerate and endure painful emotions.
Sometimes the only way out of the pain is through the pain. Which means we need to find some way to endure it. Even if we are in a hopeless situation, we can look for ways to focus on what is important for us.
Think about what is most important to you in life — what you value. Think about how difficult situations relate to those values.
One of my core values is compassion for others. This experience gave me greater resolve to show up for others with loving compassion. I realized that we are all connected through human suffering.
Making meaning does not justify the situation, or mean that you agree with it. It doesn’t mean that it is less painful. It simply helps you endure and move forward.
If you are struggling with this concept or simply want more information on making meaning, I highly recommend the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
On the four-year anniversary of the deadliest shooting in United States history, I’m reflecting on what a city’s mobilization taught me about life, death, and love.
The worst is over. We survived it. We can carry the lessons that come in the wake of the pain.
I will always be connected to the Las Vegas community. I will never forget how Las Vegas created its own light when there was nothing but darkness.
And I will carry Las Vegas with me.