December 14, 2012

How I Healed from a School Shooting. ~ Cassandra Smith

Patrick He

Like most Americans right now, I am having a very hard time processing all of this.

I think we try to understand these kinds of horrific tragedies by asking “why?” What could have possibly motivated someone to take the lives of innocent people?

I’ve been looking for an answer to this question since fourth grade, and I don’t think we will never find an answer that satisfies us.

On April 20, 1999, I was sitting in an elementary school classroom across the street from Columbine High School. Over the P.A. system, the principal announced the school was on “lockdown” and instructed teachers to cover the windows with construction paper. Soon, we could hear teenagers screaming and crying in the halls after they had been bused out of Columbine to my elementary school.

None of us knew what was happening at first—only that it was something terrible. Then, one of my classmates learned her sister had been shot. I think it was this exact moment that taught me how precious life is.

The scene at my elementary school was utter chaos. Parents of both elementary and high school students flooded the entrance; their faces filled with sheer terror as they desperately searched for their children through a barricade of S.W.A.T. team officers.

When I look at the pictures coming from Sandy Hook today, I know the parents and children are feeling the same terror, grief and confusion as we did in Littleton 13 years ago.

Having lived through the aftermath of such a tragedy, I know the community in Newtown has an extremely difficult time ahead of them as well. It is so hard to know how to begin to process emotions and heal from a place of deep suffering.

One thing I do know is that healing takes a community.

No one is going to be able to explain what happened today in a way that makes it okay. We will not find comfort by learning the shooter’s motivations, and we will not find comfort in screaming for stricter gun control.

We will find comfort in each other. 

We can heal by grieving together, talking together and providing an ear for anyone who is hurting. We find comfort in knowing our feelings of grief and confusion are not only our own.

I know I will never fully understand what made the young men at Columbine or Sandy Hook decide to take the lives of innocent people. But I also know that I do not need to understand in order to heal. We heal by showing our suffering to others and giving others space to suffer with us.

Together, we can and will get through this.


Cassandra Smith was formerly an editorial intern at elephant journal.  She is a fifth generation Colorado native who believes dance has the potential to liberate human consciousness from its cultural prison.  Cassandra formerly trained at Boston Ballet and is currently a senior at University of Colorado Boulder studying journalism, sociology and philosophy. Visit her website at cassandralanesmith.com, and follow her on Twitter.


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