Viva Las Vegas; Or, God Bless Us Every One

I’m not a ranter. This blog is about my books, my writing, and my researching, as are my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I post photos of books and Halloween decorations on Pinterest. I have my political opinions, certainly, but I vent those opinions in my fiction. From my main man Dickens I’ve learned that you can tell a great story and still make a political point or two (or three). My fiction is quite political (see The Loving Husband Trilogy or That You Are Here if you don’t believe me), but I’ve always kept that aspect under wraps. The deeper themes are there if readers care to dig; otherwise, readers are getting entertaining stories with characters they want to know better and plot twists and turns with maybe some romance (and a vampire) along the way. But today I have something else to say.

I have been a proud Las Vegas resident for 14 years. I taught in the Clark County School District for 11 years. I have spent the past three years getting my PhD from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a goal I will complete this coming May. UNLV is just miles from the Las Vegas Strip and Mandalay Bay where the worst mass shooting in U.S. history took place. I was at home while the shooting was taking place, probably in bed reading, which is where I spend most Sunday nights, or most of my nights in general (party animal that I am). I admit I’m not a big news-watching person. Since the current resident of the White House took office, I watch the news enough to make sure that the world was where I left it when I went to bed the night before, and I have a general sense of what’s happening, but otherwise I’ve been so busy reading and writing and PhD-ing that I haven’t had time to be a news junkie. When I woke up Monday morning I checked my phone, saw an odd message from the emergency services at UNLV saying that the campus was open and to expect heavier traffic than normal. I’m not sure why the alarm in my head didn’t go off when I read that. I’m so used to seeing odd messages from here, there, and everywhere. Just two months ago I was on campus speaking to one of my professors when the university was locked down due to a shooting near the library. That time, no one had been hurt, so I just shrugged it off. This morning it wasn’t until my mother, also a Las Vegas resident, told me about the events at Mandalay Bay that I understood how serious it was. And then I realized that the world was not where I left it when I went to bed the night before. I did become a news junkie and watched CNN all day. It was like a nightmare, seeing this hotel, just miles from my home, a place I’ve visited many times, become a war zone, and for no reason at all. Let me rephrase that. I’m sure the shooter had his reasons. As I’m writing this no motive has been found, but there’s always a reason, even if he didn’t share that reason with anyone, although I’m sure more will be discovered as the days pass.

I wonder if as a society we ever pass the point of no return. I wonder if things ever get so bad that there’s nothing left to be done and we just have to accept that this is the way we have to live now, looking over our shoulders, wondering who is there, why they’re there, and what they’re planning on doing while they’re there. I wonder how one man can be so disturbed that he could premeditate this attack on peaceable Americans out for a fun night listening to country music on the Las Vegas Strip, and then I wonder at the selfless heroics at the scene of the tragedy with the courageous first responders, the off duty police, and the medical personnel. Family members and friends shielded each other, and strangers pulled strangers to safety and did their best to tend to the wounded.

But how can this be? How can we scream at each other on Facebook and Twitter for having different political opinions and then pull someone we’ve never met out of the path of a bone shattering bullet? How can we bark at someone at the coffee shop (where some angry man poked me in the shoulder and yelled at me for jumping ahead of him in line when it was the coffee shop manager who told me to join her so she could refund my money) and then use our bodies to shield others from danger? Why does it take a tragedy for us to recognize the humanity in each other? Why does it take madness, murder, and mayhem for us to realize that everyone is a story, and every story is valuable?

Not that long ago strangers held the door of the restaurant or grocery store open for whoever was behind them. It still happens sometimes, but not as much. Not that long ago strangers smiled at each other, said good morning, hello, how are you? What happened? I have had this discussion often with some teacher friends of mine. We like to blame technology, how we’re all spending so much time behind blue-toned screens that we don’t recognize the importance of flesh and bone human beings (I write this with with due irony noting that I am, of course, writing this behind a blue-toned computer screen; but writers get a pass, or at least a small one, I think). We can blame the weaknesses in our society on a lack of education, a lack of jobs, a lack of medical care, and, most importantly, a lack of concern about us ordinary folks from those who are supposed to be representing us in the Congress, the Senate, and the Oval Office. Hey, remember us? We’re the ones struggling to make ends meet, sitting for five hours in the doctor’s office waiting for decent medical care, seeking to educate our children and ourselves in order to find our own little slice of that pie that used to be called the American Dream. Does the American Dream even exist anymore? As a former K-12 teacher and a current university instructor, I wonder if the younger people coming up see themselves doing better than their parents, which is what I believed I would do, and which is what I did.

Then I wonder how racism is connected to this dis-ease. Racism has always existed, but never in my lifetime have I seen people so proudly displaying their bigotry. When I was a kid my Jewish mother told me that she was glad that our last name was Allard because no one could tell we were Jewish. That’s silly, I said. No one cares about that stuff anymore. My mother explained that we had lost relatives during the Holocaust, but at 10 I didn’t understand. Who cares if we’re Jewish? Today, sadly, I understand her point. And yet again, from the ashes (or the shit in this case) rises the phoenix, and there are more people protesting the haters than there are haters. But where does such hate stem from in the land of the free and the home of the brave? I know enough about American history to understand that this country has never been the land of the free, but I had some hopes that it was the home of the brave. It’s a hope I hold onto. We see flashes of bravery in the men and women who protest for human rights, and we saw it right here in Vegas in the angels who protected and cared for others. Has this anger always been there, hidden deep and dark in our collective psyche, only to lately be released, like an outraged genie in a bottle suddenly loosed to wield frustration and fury? And why, dear friends, why is it that the angry ones with orange faces and pointing fingers, or the friends of the angry ones with orange faces and pointing fingers, get all the attention while those of us who struggle through, day by day, the ones who believe in live and let live, the ones making the best lives we can for ourselves in the rubble of what used to be the American dream, are left nameless and voiceless in the shadows?

Sometimes people struggle so much they go off the deep end. I don’t know if the shooter had any of this in mind (whatever he had of a mind), but I do think it’s all connected somehow. People lose hope, and they don’t see change coming, or they perceive that too much change is happening, and they think things are getting worse. For the first time in my 48 years, I don’t see my country improving. I see it in decline. For whatever sins America has, I used to feel like at least we were moving in the right direction. The slaves, though it took a bloody war to do it, were freed. The Civil Rights Movement happened. The Women’s Rights Movement happened. The Gay Rights Movement happened. Can our problems now really stem from what they’re saying on the news? Is it a backlash because all people are gaining their independence?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Here’s the thing: there is not a limited amount of life, liberty, and happiness. The Creator is limitless, and because our Creator is limitless our unalienable rights are limitless. Because I as an American woman have my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that doesn’t mean that any other American citizen has less of a right. But nothing is handed to us, dear friends. If we want our pursuit of happiness, we must work for it. Pointing fingers at others gets us nowhere. Believe me. I’ve tried. Whatever I have, I’ve worked hard for, and no one could have gotten it for me but me. Perhaps it’s because some people feel so hopeless at the state of things that they no longer feel the drive to try, and pointing at others and saying it’s their fault is the only thing we can do to make ourselves feel better.

So where do we go from here? We could hope our government figures out a way to keep Americans safer, but they’re too busy politickin’ to care that Americans are dying. This has always been a country of the people and their idealism. For all of our faults, we still have the greatest ideals of any country in the world. You can still be anyone born anywhere and rise as far as your hard work allows you. It might be harder now, but it can be done. So rather than relying on a broken government that cares for nothing but playing games and pointing fingers, we must rely on each other. We keep pressing forward. We peaceably protest. We write our Congressmen and Congresswomen and our Senators and our local government entities. We remember that the worst thing we can do to someone begging for attention is to ignore them. That’s harder in the Internet age where it’s so easy to respond, but the old fashioned method of ignoring is still best.

I wonder what the world would be like if we lived in that place of helping instead of hurting. Sometimes people ask how the Creator could allow such things to happen. My argument has always been that it’s not the Creator who does such things—it’s disturbed people. The outpouring of love, help, support, caring, and donations you see after a tragedy—that’s where you find the Creator. What would our world look like if we lived in that place—that place of love we continue to see after the tragedy in my hometown of Las Vegas or that place of help and concern we saw in Texas and Florida? And while we’re in a charitable mood, let’s not forget our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico who still desperately need our help.

We must remain idealistic. It is possible for us to look at each other, smile, and help each other every day. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to get us to acknowledge the humanity in each other. But we have to make a conscious effort to make things better. A change is gonna come, dear friends. Whether that change is good, bad, or indifferent is up to us.

Which is all I have to say. God bless us, every one.

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