Dear Seal Beach: Lessons From Littleton

5 years ago

[Editor’s Note: On October 12, a man walked into the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach, California and killed eight people. It is Orange County's worst mass killing.]


Dear Seal Beach,

I have a message for you from people of Littleton, Colorado. I do not live there, nor do I officially represent its citizens but I'm confident they would support what I've got to say.

First of all, I know you. I grew up alongside you in Long Beach. California. My youth (1970s-80s) is filled with Seal Beach memories - Grandma’s Ice Cream, beers at Clancy’s, fish tacos at Taco Surf and endless leisurely pier strolls. I've spent hours on your beach - napping, daydreaming and laughing with my friends.

I recall walking along Electric Avenue Median Park wishing I had the money to buy a blue ‘Kanvas by Katin’ sweatshirt and then finding that exact garment at the base of a tree. “A gift from the surf gods of Seal Beach!” I proclaimed to no one and everyone. It’s a silly little story but to me, it confirmed that Seal Beach was a dream-come-true place where bliss freely blossomed. Taking visitors there as an adult, I still catch this peaceful, contented vibe and they pick up on it too.

Though I knew none of the salon victims directly, several friends of mine lost close friends and, in one case, a true love. I know this sweet, little town is reeling with grief, sadness and enraged confusion. I also know that you are going to emerge from this tragedy even tighter than before 10/12/11; I know this emphatically because of what I witnessed on April 20, 2009.

On that day, I was living in Denver, Colorado and happened to have the day off, (Okay, okay, I was jobless.) It was the 10-year-anniversary of the Columbine shootings and I lived less than 11 miles from Columbine High School, so I decided to attend the memorial event to lend support and maybe try to understand the tragedy a bit more, especially now that I was a Colorado citizen. (My Flickr set from the day is here.)

I’m not sure what I was expecting - an emotional spectacle? A media circus? Lots of sobbing? I do know that I came away from this event feeling strangely uplifted and totally impressed with the true, raw power of community healing. To this day, I remain awestruck at the incredible strength of Littleton - the students, the families, the survivors (they reject the term ‘victims’), the school’s staff and most especially, Columbine High School’s brave and steadfast leader, Principal Frank DeAngelis, who refuses to give up his post until every single child that was in the school system when the tragic day occurred, graduates. (This will happen in 2012.)

In speech after speech, I heard tales of how the town circled the wagons - even as the world came knocking on their door, as a bloodthirsty press scrounged for details - to protect and heal its own. I heard about the heart-wrenching difficulties in the days, months and years that followed the shooting, how they reached for one another in the darkness of rage and confusion, and how they slowly accepted the fact that the word ‘Columbine’ - a beautiful, intricate mountain flower, the Colorado state flower, in fact - had become a national descriptor of outlandish violence. It had even become a verb, as in, “Don’t go all Columbine on us, dude.” This seem to hurt them the most.

I recall one speaker simply said, “I cannot wait for the day that Columbine High School is the most boring, least-talked about school in America.” Then there were the powerful words of Lee Andres, a Columbine alumnus and now, a staff teacher:

"If there's anything we've learned from that tragic day, it's that relationships matter. If something isn't right with your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your husband or your wife, your kids, your friends, your co-workers - whatever it is - FIX IT."

Hard-won words to live by.

Together, Littleton experienced a stark realization followed by one firm resolve: While evil had certainly visited their quaint little town, it would not be allowed to stay. No, evil would be made most unwelcome; it would be hounded down and run out of town every single time. To do this, they’d have to stay close, keep those wagons tight. (Even the spotlight parents - the Harris' and the Klebolds' - chose to stay in Littleton, and this could not have been easy for them.)

Right now, life surely seems forever dark, as if there truly is no light at the end of this nightmarish tunnel. But I’m here to tell you as an objective witness, that there most certainly is a future without this tainted smear. I knew that as I looked in the faces of the (then) current senior Columbine High School students, who passed out memorial programs with warm smiles. I knew that when I read the quote on the ‘Class of 2009’ t-shirts:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

--Uncle Ben, from Spiderman

The vile, selfish acts of one or two people are simply no match for the love of many.

Seal Beach now has a deep, deep wound but I know, without a doubt, that this wound is being treated and cared for not only within the community but by hundreds of people in other communities, states and countries. Spiritually, I know several people of different faiths who are meditating and praying for you folks every day, every night.

Day by day, bit by bit, things will be sunny again down on Main Street. I promise.

Your old friend,

~Heather Clisby

BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns; Section Editor, LIFE & GREEN; Proprietor, ClizBiz

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