Advocate: An Untimely End Due To Gun Violence
I live in a safe neighborhood. It’s an idyllic one really. Everyone takes pride in their home on my street. While we do yard work or sit in our Adirondack chairs with our morning coffee or our evening glass of wine, we let our children run to each other’s front yards to play. If we leave and forget to lock our doors, we think nothing of it. Our neighborhood association’s main mission is community.
Though small, the town I live in has always been, in my mind, a safe one. Tallahassee is a liberal North Florida hub, nestled amongst universities and the state capitol. I was born and raised here, and even though I left for some time after college, once we had children, a main reason why my husband and I wanted to return was because we felt it was a safe place in our home state to raise a biracial family.
I share all of this to say that a safe community isn’t all that’s needed anymore when it comes to gun violence in our country. Week after week, it seems, we turn on our TV’s or glance at our news lineup on our phones and see another headline about a mass shooting. We hop online and listen to government officials giving their thoughts and prayers. We go about our day, with sadness in our hearts, but by the end of the week, nothing has changed.
A few months ago, my perspective on this issue was rattled. And that’s because in my safe neighborhood in my safe town, my sweet neighbor was killed in a shooting at a yoga studio in my neighborhood.
Our day was like any other. I was pulling weeds in my front yard while my kids tinkered with toys beside me. My neighbor walked by with her yoga mat in hand. She smiled and waved, as she did many days, and off she went. Little did I know, that was the last time I would ever see her.
As my family sat down to dinner with our windows open, letting in the autumn breeze, all of a sudden, we heard dozens of sirens. A minute later, we heard a helicopter overhead. I looked at my husband quizzically. “Do you think it’s a military exercise or something?” I asked, not even wrapping my mind around the fact that something terrible could actually be happening. “I don’t know, probably.” he responded. Then, I heard distant shouting. At this point, my toddler started getting antsy, wanting to go outside to see the plane in the sky. I decided to check my phone, and there it was “active shooting in Tallahassee, Florida.” In our neighborhood. At a small city center where I frequent with my kids and husband. At a place where dear friends work.
My heart immediately sank and my stomach tied in knots as I shakily hopped on to Facebook, eagerly checking on loved ones to see if they had marked themselves “safe” through the app. It’s sickening that this feature even had to be created, right? Beep by beep, people were marking themselves safe. Meanwhile, my husband closed up the windows and locked the doors, as we didn’t know if the gunman was on foot and could be headed down our street.
I called my mom, not knowing where she was. She answered, a little peeved that she was stuck in traffic on the road next to my house. When I told her what was going on, she immediately began to pray, on the phone with me. One of her good friends practices yoga at this studio, so after our shared prayer, she told me she had to call Liz to see if she was alright.
As the hours pressed on, we waited for a body count. After we put the boys to bed, my husband went out with our dog Maya for a walk. When he got home, he told me he spoke with our next door neighbor who was very close with Nancy, our neighbor across the street. It was then that he told my husband that she had been fatally shot that day.
My husband came inside and told me the news. I remember my brain feeling like scrambled eggs. I just kept saying, “What? What do you mean? What? That can’t be right. No. That isn’t right.” My husband kept repeating the news to me over and over again until I was able to digest what I heard.
Though I did not know Nancy well and by no means want to cling to her for a story, she was still a part of my life that was taken away recklessly. She had the most beautiful garden, and was always so sweet to my boys. When we passed her on our family walks, we would often exchange pleasantries and I would always marvel at her landscaping skills. It became a rhythm seeing her walk to yoga on a regular basis. Then, she was gone. Just like that.
The next few weeks were difficult to watch. Her front yard was constantly filled with flowers, friends and neighbors, paying their respects to her family. The entry of the yoga studio where two souls were lost and many wounded was filled with flowers, candles, and people throughout the community, on their knees in prayer. We learned that the killer, who took his life after destroying others, was a mentally ill radicalized right wing extremist who had sick misconceptions of patriarchy. He believed that women shouldn’t be able to wear yoga pants without a man’s permission because it would degrade society. That’s why he targeted a yoga studio. The news shared tidbits about the victims’ lives, both cut too short, for the weekend. A few days later, another shooting with more casualties at a Country Western bar happened on the other side of the country, leaving this tragedy out of the news. And just like that, it was over.
Except it wasn’t. Every morning, when I left the house with my children, Nancy’s empty home was a visual reminder that she was gone. Every time I looked across the street, it was a slap in the face that she was killed for truly no reason at all. For months, I felt queasy. I also felt completely helpless. Gun violence is such an enormous problem in this country. What can I, just one person, do to stop it? I felt so angered by my helplessness that I found my mind and heart spinning.
On a winter morning, I sat in my chair in the front yard with my boys, sipping my morning coffee. I looked across the way at the beautiful empty house, and I took in a deep breath. I decided at that moment to consciously live everyday with more intent and purpose. I decided to go out of my comfort zone more. I decided to delve into advocacy. I alone can’t change the world, but I can join in the fight. We have no idea which day will be our last. No matter what our spiritual beliefs are, we’re only on this earth for a small amount of time. Let’s love more fiercely. Let’s fight for what we believe in. Let’s make this world a more beautiful place for our children. They deserve to live in a place where there is more peace, beauty, and acceptance than there is now.
Since that day of commitment in honor of my fallen neighbor, I have consciously loved on my boys more, done things that scare me, say yes more, and have stopped questioning and started doing. I know that even in a small way, this way of life will make a difference, and no matter how small, it will change the world.
Will you change the world with me?