I’ve heard the same sentiment from many friends and acquaintances this week: you never think “it could happen here.” Until it does. And even then you can’t believe it.
On Thursday, a gunman opened fire in a building on the campus of my alma mater, Seattle Pacific University, killing one student and injuring a handful more. Thankfully, the heroic actions of one student stopped the gunman before the situation escalated further. It could have been much, MUCH worse, had Jon Meis not stepped up and done what we all hope we would do in a similar situation, and taken an opportunity to disarm and restrain the shooter until police could arrive.
This was shocking. This was senseless. This has shaken the community that I know and love. I usually refrain from discussing politics and/or religion, saving it instead for the privacy of my personal journal, but this hit too close to home. Part of me thinks “oh, I’ve been graduated since 2010, I should’t feel this shaken,” but this was my home for four years. This was where I learned to be independent. This is where I came into my own. This is where I learned the skills of my profession. This is where I got to experience my last few years of young invincibility, where nothing could go wrong. Where I lived within shouting distance of all my friends, and we stayed up late because we could (and because there was a marathon of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders Tryouts on TV).
This small, Christian community always felt insulated to me, like any problem could be fixed here. I learned about my own faith here, and learned how to question. I learned how to think. I learned how to be a responsible human being. Anyone who knows this small school knows that once you go there, you are part of a family. You recognize names and faces of everyone in your class. You have an instant bond with other former students. It feels like my community has been violated, violated by this one person who woke up and decided he wanted to shoot up a school. I have many friends who still live or work on campus, friends that had to shelter in place and wonder what was happening on Thursday afternoon. I think about the seniors whose last week of college has now been tainted with this horrible act. The incoming freshman whose families are now worrying whether or not they will be safe.
I feel for the family of Paul Lee, who did not survive Thursday. I feel for the students who now have to process the senseless loss of a classmate. I feel for everyone whose courage and faith has been tested this week. But it has been an honor and privilege to see my university rise up in the face of adversity and speak words of forgiveness, of grace, and of healing. My peers have focused not on the horrific actions of the man who shall remain nameless, less he starts to feel some of the infamy he so craved, but on the heroic actions of a few students who said “not one more.” I am in awe of the fact that Jon Meis has not only had his entire wedding registry bought by complete strangers, but now has upwards of $30,000 in a crowd-funded account, just from people who wanted to recognize a selfless act. Whether he ends up accepting it or not, it is well-deserved. Had he not stood up, the death toll would likely not have stopped at one.
My friends and I have been shaken this last week, but it has also caused us to reflect on the time we spent at SPU. It was truly a blessing, and impacted my life in such a positive way. It helped me to solidify a quiet spirituality and relationship with God, one that does not need to be publicized or boasted, but one that helps to quiet and calm my hectic mind and keeps me focused on what’s important to me. I met some of my best friends at SPU, I was an RA for a floor of amazing girls, and I had fun. I was carefree (as long as it wasn’t finals week). This place has been so many things to so many people, and it is a place that I hold near and dear to my heart. It is my fervent hope and prayer that all of the current students and staff can heal from this, and also recognize the small moments of comfort and beauty in the brokenness. The students comforting one another. Everyone coming together to celebrate a life cut too short, and a young man that showed extraordinary courage in the face of danger and evil. This truly is a special place, and, even though SPU is hurting right now, God is at work there. Good is at work there. This doesn’t need to be about gun control, or about religion, or about mental illness, though all three issues are clearly present. This is about people supporting other people. This is about embracing the family we chose as students of Seattle Pacific University, and about the life we want to live as followers of Christ. This is about proclaiming love and forgiveness. We don’t need to pretend to understand why it happened, but we need allow ourselves to grieve what has been lost and become strong together in our brokenness.
I leave you with two photos. First, a picture of three best friends in their first days at college, with their futures ahead of them, and not a care in the world (except maybe a touch of homesickness). We came to this place together, ready to conquer the world of adulthood. To us, SPU was a place of endless possibility. Second, a picture of the same three best friends, plus the fourth who should have been in the first picture (but was probably behind the camera, from what I remember), five years later, five years wiser, better people for having attended Seattle Pacific University.
Please consider donating to the fund started to pay for Paul Lee’s funeral, as well as the medical bills of the other students injured: https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/prt4/spu-student-funeral