“Spartan Strong”

What a blunder of a week filled with every emotion.

I, like so many other, will now always remember February 13,2023. Its no longer the day before Valentine’s Day; its the day of a mass shooting at my beloved alma mater, Michigan State University. There was little to no sleep that evening for me. I wept while watching some of my beloved favorite places on North campus continuously show updates on 24/7 national television. While getting ready for work with an excessive amount of caffeine; I hugged my other half and wept some more into his shoulder. I got ready with my Valentine’s Day heart printed dress and departed towards my office now in Nothern Michigan some 200 miles away.

My mind always wanders or does its best thinking: during longer driving commutes, outdoors hikes, runs and walks. This morning was no different. I observed the sunrise coming towards me over the banks of Lake Charlevoix and I kept thinking back to my time in East Lansing and specific few incidents that kept haunting me. I had completely forgotten that I had been involved in an active shooter event that locked down MSU’s campus in May of 2014.

To be honest; I think I blocked it all out. I’ve pretty much blocked out or not thought about moving away from my beloved city for years now.

The incident with the active shooter met a poor pharmacist at Rite Aid’s demise. The perpetrator then ran loose in the nearby cities. I remember being nearly alone in Rather Hall (where my glass front office was located in the lobby.) I locked the door and hid first under my desk, then decided might be safe enough to head towards the unisex bathroom that deadbolt locked in the lobby. I remember texting people, cold sweat trickling down my forehead, that I had on a blue sleeveless wrap dress and I took off my nude sling back heels for fear of being heard. This was my worst case fear brought to light.

Breathing in and out to remind myself I was alive, and it was going to be okay.

Question is though–after people go through something that–are they ever really okay?

Our constitution of the United States America openly states about people’s inalienable right to: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

How can that be possible when we are constantly reeling in fear?

(Is it possible to add an amendment to have a reasonable sense of safety and security? but how?)

Although I had forgotten about that time, that I do I recall the feeling of terror and personal violation that led me to permanently move away from East Lansing. I survived my own personal sexual assault and physical beating just off campus in 2015. Violence against another human being in anyway evokes a feeling lingering trauma for years to come.

It’s so incredibly paradoxical and confusing.

This breaks my heart for the students that will now also have the association of one of their favorite places in the world trigger them from here on out. I still yearn to hear the Spartan marching band practicing on a sunny Fall Friday before a home football game. To smell the Red Cedar and foliage walking mid campus, feel the buzz of new youthful energy every August, and settle into the beauty of the architecture of North Campus. I would bottle and sell this evocation to alumni and fans if I could.

There is nothing in the world like it.

The same thing I wish I could encapsulate also provokes a small lingering rumbling in my stomach of doubt and fear. It’s not really easy for me to even be near the campus I loved so dearly since 2015. I’ve needed more time and healing. A person’s body keeps the score and produces a reaction whether we want it or not. Our fear-based trauma roots itself deep into our brain. Intellectually we may feel physical safe. It the rest that are incredibly hard…

So, I wonder and worry. On a campus of nearly 18’000 students surrounded by the largest land mass university campus in the United States; how do we help process the fear, grief, and sudden loss of safety for these students? Employees? Local residents?

Essentially, I ask, where do we go from here?

Physically some buildings may remain closed for the rest of Spring Semester 2023. Games will be postponed and then played. Classes will resume, students will arrive back to campus. Time is a torch carrying thief that will march on. For those still feeling that deep rumbling in your soul; I am there with you, and I understand.

I don’t have the answers seven years after my own traumatic event. What I do have is deep empathy, better communication, sobriety, and necessary coping skills. I showed up and was brutally honest at my counseling appointment. I wept, cried, journaled, and walked during lunch breaks. I wore my Spartan attire with pride all week. I thought about so many people I haven’t spoked to or seen in years. I reached out to a few.

I find inspiration in the young lives and many employees who have shown up at vigils, in solidarity and in so many other resources. You are teaching me to continue to dig deep and do the work on myself. We can never know when tragedy will strike us personally or on a larger scale. I do also feel inspired to potentially rip off a band aid and visit in the Spring…

We all have to heal and continue to inspire each other “Spartan Strong.”