Last week was the fifth anniversary of the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School. These are excerpts and pictures from my e-Letter days six days after the shooting.
I have been practicing for forty years as a psychologist in this community. I have seen thousands of patients with all kinds of problems. I have worked in drug rehabs and child protection teams. I have been trained in crisis intervention and have treated people who have been victims of bank robberies and employee deaths.
But never have I experienced anything so disruptive to the lives of people and the community as this shooting. This disaster is personal not only to me but to all who live here, grew up here, work here, or know others here.
Traumas such as this school shooting are extremely high intensity events that occur infrequently. But they do occur and when they do, they overcome our normal ability to cope and our usual defense mechanisms.
We feel powerless, scared, and angry. We try to make sense out of something that makes no sense, and we are left numb and in disbelief.
It has only been six days, yet it feels like months. Our community has been changed forever and normal will never return. Our sense of safety is gone along with Parkland’s innocence. The cruelty of our world has crashed down on this community, our community, leaving huge gaping scars.
But now, there are seventeen funerals to attend. Teenagers are left with horrible memories of what they saw and experienced. Some fear for their safety and are anxious about how they can return to school. They band together because their friends share this catastrophe and understand what it is like to be terrified. They are angry that their lives could forever be changed so easily. They are angry that they were not protected by those who could have and by those who should have. They are angry that there were signs of potential disaster, but the systems failed. They are angry about easy access to guns and that mental illness is not taken seriously enough.
These teenagers are educated, smart, affluent, and motivated. They will not go quietly into the night. Change is coming and they will be the instruments of change.
Their parents and families are also angry. Thousands of questions that have no answers have been asked. How could this have happened here ripples across the community. They are angry because they trusted society to protect their children who were actually in the right place at the right time. But society failed them. The systems of protection did not work.
Now they are left heartbroken and trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Their community has been damaged and now Parkland will forever be known for having one of the worst school shootings in American history.
With time and support, a new normal will develop. We will be changed. Hopefully we can take this event and, in some way, use it to make us stronger and better people. As the community comes together, perhaps we will become more understanding, respectful, courteous, tolerant, and more caring to our fellow neighbors. Nobody here has escaped this tragedy and together, we can become better people and a stronger community.
Perhaps this can be the legacy of the Stoneman Douglas tragedy.
Five years later, let us not forget. Let us all become better people.