On the eve of the two-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, community members attended the book launch of If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings at Broward College.
The anthology is a compilation of work from more than 80 survivors of school shootings. The book spans 52 years and begins with first-person narratives of the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018 and ends with accounts from the University of Texas Tower shooting in 1966.
“I really feel like this is a snapshot in time that I really hope doesn’t last,” said Amy Archer, co-editor of the collection.
Three contributors read from the book at the event and then a panel discussion followed on how art can help people heal from trauma.
Dara Hass is a survivor and an English teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Three of her students were killed in her classroom. “I lost three, sweet, beautiful souls,” Hass said as she read from the book, tearing up at times.
“I will never be the same person I was before this tragic day,” she said. “But I will push forward. That is all I can do. I will take each day, each moment with my loved ones, each moment with my student as a gift. I will be strong.”
The healing power of writing
The panel discussion focused on how the arts can help process trauma.
Dr. Deborah Eve Grayson, a poetry therapist, said that art therapy “bypasses the intellect and it goes straight into the heart and soul.”
“With writing, it gives us accountability, responsibility, and it's a way to purge on a page so that we can, in a sense, vomit our truth,” she said.
Rachel Bean contributed to the anthology and is a Margory Stoneman Douglass alumna. She was a freshmen at University of Central Florida when the shooting happened. She said that because she wasn’t directly affected by the shooting she felt “less worthy of feelings.”
“I wasn’t directly involved in the shooting. I wasn’t in the classrooms. I didn’t have any family there, so who was I to feel sad? Who was I to flinch at loud noises? And I ask myself a lot of those questions now,” she said.
During the panel discussion, Bean said writing allowed her to express herself “without fear of judgement.”
English Teacher Dara Hass also said writing helped in her healing process: “The pen and paper, it kind of makes it a little easier,” she said.
A community in recovery
Expressed throughout the event was the sentiment that the Parkland community was still processing the traumatic effects of the massacre.
During the question and answer session, a member of the audience mentioned she can’t go to Publix to buy chicken because she’s too scared.
“This event had such a ripple effect on everybody,” Hass said. “That’s the part that makes me so angry because our life has been shifted.”
Another member of the audience asked the panel if they have healed.
“No,” Bean answered. “There’s never going to be complete healing... People will tell you it gets easier with time, but that is a fat lie, it doesn’t get easier.”
Harold Ng, who was at the event, was wounded in a shooting at Northern Illinois University in 2008. He talked about his experience in a letter he wrote to Parkland students in the anthology.
“I don’t think you’ll ever be fully ever healed,” he said. “but you become stronger.”
Ten years after his shooting, he says he is still healing. In his letter to Parkland students Ng wrote a list of things to help that process, though, things like writing, finding a hobby, getting involved, seeking help, and reminding students there is a network of survivors.
Hass said she has come to terms with the idea that she will always be healing. To this day, loud sounds like balloons popping and fireworks trigger anxiety. She always has to know where the exits are when she’s in a building. She goes in and out of grocery stores as quickly as possible. “It does get easier,” she said.
“There’s moments where I cry and I think 'OK, I’m going to cry.' I’m not going to let it defeat me,” she said. “I think that’s part of the healing process, is being OK with yourself and letting yourself heal. And it does take time.”