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On Grieving Strangers

Written by Joanna Malvas

April 19, 2023

I’d like to begin this article by acknowledging the complexity of writing such a piece. I was moved to write this article to process my own complacency and ignorance towards gun violence. In doing so, I hope not to detract from the pain and suffering of those directly affected by the Covenant shooting. I implore anyone reading this piece to donate to local organizations that provide resources to the victims.

Resources to donate to:

Growing up in the generation of “Code Red” drills and “If you see something, say something” signs, I find myself becoming desensitized to the imminent danger of guns. With how prevalent gun violence is in America, we all seem to slump into acceptance of these tragedies being a casual reality. Even as schools emerged out of COVID quarantine in 2021, 35 shootings occurred after the first day of August. By the following December, 300 school shooting incidents occurred. It’s only been three years since the 2020 lockdown, and yet somehow, schools felt safer then. When receiving alerts about the Covenant school shooting, it was hard to act surprised. I had first heard about the shooting in a passing, offhand comment from a friend. After our conversation, I felt continuous unease after realizing how I was unaffected by the news.

I have a close friend who lives in Tennessee, who posted about how she drove by the mass of cop cars that were headed to Covenant School. When I texted her to check in and see if she was okay, she said that the shooting was only a couple blocks away from her school. She said that she hadn’t processed what had happened, since it was so “out of the blue.” It sunk in for her hours later, when she texted me at 2 A.M. I realized then that it could’ve been her.

The next day, I endlessly scrolled through social media, searching for updates. I read article after article, becoming engrossed in who the shooter was, what the police did, rewatching the released body camera video. I was so engrossed in this event, wallowing in a strange place of grieving for the lives of these strangers.

But then, I had to go to class. I had to go about my day as if I hadn’t cried that morning. I revised my paper for my Writing Studio class, scheduled and planned for the week ahead, and sat for an hour doing work at Marciano’s. As I looked around the dining hall, I saw people going about their lives. Eating, laughing, talking. Suddenly, I felt angry. Seeing story after story on Instagram, I wondered how many of the reposts and retweets are performative; how many people truly cared? On Instagram, reposts of the same pink Canva graphics and essay captions to represent solidarity became increasingly superficial. Above all, I was cynical. I was frustrated with how people were simply living their lives, as if I had done any better. Again, I reflected back on my own ignorance to the world outside my own. I forgot how individualistic I am, only caring for the spaces I fill, only caring for the people in my life. Yet, at the same time, it didn’t feel right to just move on either. In these moments, you realize that regardless of what happens, the world seems to move on.

Then, there was the shooting threat that turned out to be a swatting incident on Sunday, Apr. 9. I was walking along Commonwealth to CFA for my a cappella group’s rehearsal. I was about to enter the building when I saw a line of cop cars with their lights flickering obnoxiously. I paused and backed up from the scene among other bystanders, initially being confused. I saw an ambulance parked near the side and thought someone had gotten seriously injured. After a few moments, the police urgently ushered us to walk past the building. I looked back, hearing officers yell at us to move away from the building. I passed by officers holding giant rifles as they emerged from the doors. At that point, I knew the cops were there for a shooting threat.

While the shooting threats were fake, I still was shaken from the entire situation. I replayed every detail I saw in my mind, thinking about how differently things could have unraveled. Walking swiftly back to my dorm, I stayed on call with my parents. “Thank God,” they said. “Thank God nothing else happened.” We sat on the phone, in silence.

In today’s society, we are inundated with these stories, as injustice after injustice continues to happen, saturating our feeds on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. It’s not hard to become desensitized to tragedy when injustice is so prevalent. Our generation is presented with the dilemma of navigating when to grieve, when to care, when to get angry— all while learning to carry ourselves. Especially in the era of social media, it feels unnatural to scroll through 10-second TikToks of funny clips, then scroll through the most depressing news in the same sitting. Yes, complacency is not acceptable. I become regretful of myself for all the times I scrolled past a ‘trigger warning’ post.

At the end of the day, it’s not enough to care for what happens in our own lives, living in ignorant bliss and indifferently accepting school shootings as incidents of a passing reality, as if the reality of gun violence could never be our own. We need radical empathy to remind ourselves that this is an issue that impacts all of us. As long as guns are easily accessible, shootings could easily involve someone that I love. Over and over again, I thought, ‘what if that was her?’ What if that event had involved my family? My brother, my father, my mom?

Truthfully, as long as corruption continues and injustice exists, there is a need to be frustrated, to get angry, and to grieve strangers. Inevitably, apathy is a more comfortable place to sit in, rather than being moved by every shooting incident. However, how much longer can we sit in complacence, knowing that we are all at risk? We should not allow ourselves to become completely distraught or live in perpetual fear of our future, but rather, we should allow ourselves to feel, to radically empathize with others and to find the strength to advocate on behalf of people who aren’t our own. In our own capacity, we can all push forward together, because in the end, none of us are facing the world alone.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

—Martin Luther King Jr.


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