If you haven’t watched Dunkirk yet, I’d suggest watching before reading on. (If you can spare the coin, watch it in IMAX – it’ll make you feel that much more.)
If you haven’t watched Dunkirk yet, I’d suggest watching before reading on. (If you can spare the coin, watch it in IMAX – it’ll make you feel that much more.)
I’m not even certain how to begin writing this, but perhaps sincerity will do the speaking. Three years after the Isla Vista shooting, I’m finding myself thinking about what transpired in my beloved college town. This is the first time I’m finding myself not in Santa Barbara thinking about what happened, and the sorrow, shock, and surrealism of a tragedy striking far too close have been replaced by a longing to understand. Frustrated confusion mingled with silence are all I have left this year. The obvious question then was: why? But the more compelling question now is: how? How did a life become so distraught, so self-consumed, so unrecognizable to humanity?
On the night of the shooting, I found myself reading up on what had happened, watching the intensely disturbing YouTube video, and reading the “manifesto” that had been written, and I remember thinking that this was the work of a person who deeply misunderstood the source of value in life. Tonight, I re-read many portions of the manifesto, and I still think that intuition was correct. Perhaps the more religious among us would be inclined to chalk the enormity up to “man’s fallen nature,” and I don’t disagree. Nevertheless, I’m not certain that I’m fully persuaded by a description that seems so bereft of the utter darkness that we witnessed. It just doesn’t seem like a complete enough description given the implicit resignation of the phrase; it seems more like the manifestation of radical despair and unmet desires. Upon reading the manifesto tonight, I was met with conflicting pity and disgust, yet there was also a part of me that wondered if our world hadn’t groomed such a tragedy from the beginning. Obviously I am not trying to justify what the killer did nor am I pinning the blame on society; this was truly a case of senseless, hopeless violence. Yet, the questions are overflowing. Did he have friends to help him through these troubled thoughts? How did his parents not perceive the issue from an early age, when he seemed to have begun his deviation from living a full, vibrant life? What could we collectively have done differently?
I’m not entirely sure I’ve had enough time to understand – it may very well be the case that his story is not one to be understood. But more than anything, I find my heart broken once again for the families who lost their loved ones in the most unnatural way. I will never know the depth of suffering that the friends of the deceased endure every year around this time. All I can do – all we can do – is be faithful each year to honor the memories of those whose lives were claimed and be reminded to love those around me with kindness and with respect. I believe that the end is drawing ever closer, and so I must believe that a loud voice from the throne will eventually say, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And yet, in the middle of an especially dark night, I am finding it difficult to bear the burden of tears that have yet to be wiped.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
The contents of the following narrative come from within the confines of my imagination; no elderly people were harmed in the process.
“I get it, the drought’s over.” I donned my “leopard yellow” – it was really more of a canary yellow, if you ask me – North Face raincoat and stepped outside in some old, oversized, navy-blue Crocs. Yes, they were the ones with the holes on top, but I figured the odds of the raindrops falling precisely into those little perforations were even (thanks, Olan), so I confidently stepped out in them. Stuffing the aging ‘U S A # 1’ lanyard into my right pocket, I thought about what kind of mail would be waiting for me in the cluster mailbox unit. Bills and credit card pre-approvals, most likely.
Having gotten used to the black, non-slip Crocs I wear at Heritage Cafe, I realized that not all Crocs were made equal in regards to slip resistance. Some panels of sidewalk were gritty enough to provide the traction that my clogs lacked, but other panels were waiting to put me on a gag reel. I tread on a red carpet of fallen leaves, resigned to the fact that the only signs of fall were to be found during a Californian winter. This slippery sidewalk is going to be a sign of fall too, if I’m not careful.
After looping around the gated swimming pool in the center of the housing community, I began to hear a faint hum, like the buzz bees make behind you when you’re running as far from your mistake as possible. That’s odd – what would bees be doing out in this rain, and where are they so I don’t scream when I see too many of them? As I carefully rounded the corner bush facing the entrance to the swimming pool, the source of the low commotion hit me like a train. The elderly were strewn about the rest of the way to the mailboxes, moaning in soggy unison as their old age coupled with the ruthlessly slick rectangles of concrete mingled in a momentous occasion. There wasn’t enough Life Alert in the world to help all of my elderly neighbors as they lay dripping, groaning. What am I gonna do? How long had they been laying here, felled by the long overdue precipitation? The scene was too much for me, so I plod on, taking care to step in the patches in between cardigans and knit sweaters, reaching my destination after what seemed like a mile of meek footwork. I got the mail – sure enough, it was bills and credit card pre-approvals – and headed home, wondering what it would be like if some of my elderly neighbors were to slip and fall out here in the drifting rain.
With the shootings lately of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas policemen, a burden has slowly been growing in my heart. I am not the most sympathetic person ever, but the chaos has gotten to a point where it’s inescapable; social media is absolutely overrun by the latest shooting, anti-police sentiments, and calls for gun control. Now, I will be the first person to admit that I have not taken enough of a stake in what has been going on in the #blacklivesmatter movement because I was simply never comfortable with making a statement regarding something which I had so little experience with and knowledge about. I was concerned more with how comfortable I was than with reaching out to the black community and learning about their struggle and trying to bear their pain. I sighed and remained inactive along with some of my peers regarding “social justice warriors,” believing their fight to be futile. For that, I apologize. Today, the Lord has made it simply impossible to remain silent regarding this issue.
(In case this runs too long, which I fully expect to do, I’ll be putting the main points in bold.)
Before I say anything, I’d like to lay down some groundwork for where I’m speaking from; understanding culture is a tremendously overlooked part of the increasingly hostile dialogue in this issue, so forgive me for digressing a bit. Now, I will not speak with the passion of my brothers and sisters struggling for some sign of reform because I am a part of the so-called “model minority” trying to understand the plight of simple minority. I am not fueled by a history of police abuse and senseless murders. My people are quiet and submissive to authorities, and it is a greater virtue to be concerned with one’s own well-being above being involved with so volatile a movement that has seemingly “nothing to do with me.” It is not uncommon to lock our car doors when we see black or Mexican people walking around; it is equally as unsurprising when we treat the homeless with distrust and disgust. However, another part of my cultural identity is that of a Christian, and the God who I love sent His Son, who will not break the bruised reed nor put out the smoldering wick, to die for us in love; in faithfulness, He will bring forth justice (Isaiah 42:3). This identity flies in the face of my social-historical identity because this identity sees the black person, the Mexican person, the downtrodden as a brother and a friend, and there is a desire for reconciliation and deeper understanding of their story to see how God receives glory in the midst of trial. Jesus’s heart breaks for Alton Sterling, for Philando Castile, and for the Dallas policemen, just to mention a few; His heart breaks for you and me too when we riot, when we kill, and when we stay silent through it all. Because of the love of the Savior, I am moved to speak out regarding this issue.
But where do I start? It seems like choosing a side to address would be subconsciously identifying with one side of the issue more than the other, and so I will only speak to myself and what I believe people of my culture can do. As the Asian-American community, we have historically been labeled “the model minority;” we’re the minority community that doesn’t cause trouble because we basically have lived in such a way that suggests a willing assimilation into how the white man lives – and that might not even be our fault. In fact, living like the white man was a fantastic motivator for many of our ancestors to get here by boat and try to make a living. However, now that we’ve been established as a community with some weight to it, what are we going to do moving forward? We can choose to bow out of the present struggle like we’ve done in the past, and no one would be surprised, but I believe the Asian-American community needs to surprise people by being more minority and less model. This is not a call to riot, to kill, to lose control; this is a call for us to be more actively involved in dealing with the injustices that we see all around us. We ought to be beyond the attitudes of our culture that make allowances for casual racism; we’re better than that now, or at least we should be. So why don’t we do anything? As a community, we are well-educated, well-mannered by culture, and more sensitive than we’d allow in our private households. If we speak, will the white community truly view us with the same misgivings as they might with the black community? We are now placed in a position where we have the ability to become a true bridge between communities, yet we choose to stand more on one side of America at a time when America needs more than ever to be deeply connected. It’s time we, as the “model minority,” identify with our black brothers and sisters and say, yes, their problem is our problem, and we won’t stand aside quietly while they are continually dealt cultural injustices that have only accumulated through time. We have not had the same violent history with the white community, and this may very well be our strength and contribution to the #blacklivesmatter movement going forwards; we can reinforce the voices that need to be heard instead of drowning them out with our passivity.
There is no doubt that the hurt the black community has endured is unjust, but it is also true that the rights of the Dallas policemen to live were unnecessarily taken from them. This pain has escalated beyond affecting just a single community, and if we do not prevent the monstrous desire for vengeance from slaking its thirst, we may find ourselves uncomfortably well-acquainted with the violence and death that it brings in its wake. It seems cliché, yet it is perhaps the hardest thing to live out in light of the latest events, and so I ask: can we let love be genuine? Will we abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good, or will we entertain the thoughts of evil for the sake of pursuing our perceived good? Is it even possible for us to love one another with brotherly affection, outdoing one another in showing honor despite every vein in our body wanting the other person to intimately, forcefully know our pain? Will we as the Asian-American Christian community continue to be slothful in zeal, or can we be fervent in spirit as we serve the Lord? Are we praying for the strength to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer? Are we each contributing to all the various needs of the saints, seeking to show them hospitality whether it be mourning with them the condition of this world or gently correcting them when they’ve allowed Satan to gain a foothold in their hurt? Let’s bless those who persecute us, blessing them without cursing them. We rejoice with those who rejoice, but in this time, more than ever, let’s weep with those who weep. We ought to live in harmony with one another, being not arrogant in our estimation of others but freely and willingly associating with the lowly and downtrodden, being not wise in our own eyes to the point of being blind to the truth being shared by others. It will be hard, but repay no one evil for evil, but think most about doing what is honorable before everyone, even at the cost of stifling the most violent of passions within us. If it’s still possible, as far as we can control it, let’s live peaceably with all. My beloved brothers and sisters in the black community, I may seem out of place in saying this, but never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” In fact, do the opposite of vengeance and feed your enemy when he is hungry; give him something to drink when he is thirsty for by doing so you heap burning coals on his head. How will he react to your goodwill in the face of tribulation? Finally, let’s not overcome evil by lowering ourselves to more evil, but overcome evil with good. After all, darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
You are all my brothers and sisters, images of God made perfect in the eyes of our heavenly Father, and I love you all. I am still learning about all that has transpired in the drawn-out history of violence, physical and structural, that you have endured, but perhaps you are the only community strong enough to endure it all; on my end, I’ll be doing what I can to help, so that God may be glorified in all of us.
He was just the weird kid that sat with the group during lunches, always a little to the left of you – far enough where he wasn’t sitting next to you, but close enough for it to be obvious where he wanted to be. No one really spoke to him, and people always whispered about how weird he was, how he never said a word, and they wondered why he even bothered sitting there. You always wondered about him, but you never felt like he was doing anything out of place, so you left him alone. You sometimes wondered about his expression, often catching him looking at you as well, but he would glance away just as your eyes fell upon his face. It was difficult to discern what went on behind his long hair, but any time you did catch a glimpse into his soul, it seemed familiar. Somehow, you knew what you saw; you both walked through the same trials, but you chose instead to put on a different mask. You smiled through the abuse, the tears, the screaming fear. You deflected invitations to lounge at your place, choosing instead the guise of mock humility in hopes that flattery would divert attention away from your broken household. You almost wanted to ask him how he was doing, but you feared that the resulting empathy would weaken your defense.
And so you went on living.
All through high school, he just sat there. Every lunch period, he would wordlessly sidle over to your general left, letting the backpack strap slip off his right shoulder to the ground, and sit. People stopped whispering about him eventually, sharing the belief that he wasn’t hurting anyone, so why bother? Yet you knew how much he hurt himself – you saw a scar that peeked out from underneath his long sleeves, and you could only imagine how much it hurt to be so near to friendship but never partake. You understood. And you never tried to change it.
And so you went on living.
You walked home everyday from school, opting to take the scenic route so that you could prolong the time spent away from home. You’d see him get picked up every day, looking straight ahead wordlessly as his mother drove off. You felt the silence in the car, and grimaced. Even if it was a forty minute walk, it was definitely preferable to the suffocation of that disapproving, insatiable silence. You exhaled as you found yourself at your own doorstep, apprehensive of the conditions that lay behind the slightly dented door. It stuck if you didn’t push down on it as it was opening, but it wasn’t too bad. Sometimes you’d be home alone, and you could actually do your homework in quiet. You’d make yourself a sandwich, and fiddle with your guitar, playing things mindlessly until you heard footsteps at the door. Putting away the guitar, you’d sigh and spread out on your bed, praying that the door to your room would stay closed.
There was no such luck today as you opened the door to the cries of your mother screaming at your father. Rushing forward to hold him back from killing her, you bit your lip as blow after blow rained on you. You crumpled. As you fell on your knees, hunched over, you felt your spine give out from the beating. With your eyes shut tight, all you could see was black and red, clenching your jaw so tight your teeth groaned under the pressure. Your breath leaves you and you fall forward onto the musty carpet, unable to respond to fading calls of your name.
As you come to, you realize immediately that you’d been taken to the emergency room. You sigh grimly, wondering when your life came to the point when you worried first about the medical bills that couldn’t be paid before you worried about your own health. You look over at the small table beside you, and you see a card with your name roughly scrawled on the cover. Curious, you open it, and begin to read.
By this point, I’m fairly sure you still don’t know my name. But that’s okay. I’m happy to be known as the quiet kid who sits on your left hand side at lunch. It always felt like we had a connection. It must be some kind of inescapable fate that led me to writing this card. I know you don’t know much about my life – I’m not even sure if you care, but I feel like I need to tell you this because maybe you do. Here goes nothing.
Every day at school, I walk around and try to keep a low profile. I stay quiet, and I try not to do anything weird, other than stay really quiet. At lunch, I go over to where you and the other people sit. If you’ve ever wondered why I’ve been drawn to your group, it’s mainly because of you. There was a moment, I think it was sophomore year, when you put your mask down, and I recognized myself in your eyes. I was walking in the hall, and caught sight of you opening the door to the bathroom. But what I saw wasn’t typical you. Your eyes gave it away; I saw the hurt you kept inside. I didn’t know what to do. At first, I just hung out with your group because you were the only one who would let me sit there and not ask questions or tell me to leave. I think your friends caught on, and so I sat there with you guys all through high school. Something about watching how you talked to your friends and how you paid close attention to what they said was really admirable. It’s like you held onto every word they said as if it was the last thing you’d hear them say. You rarely talked much about yourself, and I wondered why your friends never noticed that you would always dance around their questions about you – especially the questions about your home and your family. I wanted to talk to you, to have you listen to what I had to say, but I couldn’t even hold eye contact with you longer than an instant. And so I just watched.
I never would have guessed that you’d be going through something like this. Even though my parents are divorced, they’ve never laid a hand on me physically. It’s the emotional abuse that did me in. Feelings of worthlessness, abandonment, the desire to just be accepted for who I am and not what I do, I’ve thought it all. Eventually, I started cutting, and the peace that filled me in those moments was the only thing I looked forward to at home. My mom stopped talking to me since my dad left us, and she either works or sleeps. She never knew about my hobby. My dad, well, who knows where he is? I try not to think about him because I don’t want to run the risk of becoming anything like him. One day, my mom overslept, and so I had to walk home. It’s about a thirty minute walk, and along the way, I stopped by the ER. I don’t even know why. I stayed to see patients being rushed in, usually unconscious, and as I went in more and more after school, the staff grew to recognize me. They would let me in the back sometimes to see the people being taken care of, and I wondered what it’d be like if I was the one laying in the bed. Would anyone come see me? So, I began staying longer and longer, hoping for people to wake up so that I could hear their story. These people became my daily friends.
Still, I cut. Some days, I could go without it, but some days, I would spend as long as I could in the bathroom, watching my anxieties flow away in a crimson calm. Today, I avoided cutting, and went to the ER instead. I met Henry, who was paralyzed from the neck down, and Mary, who suffered third degree burns all along the left side of her body. And then, I met you. At first, I couldn’t even recognize you because you were swollen. Your mom was crying about how your dad beat you, but once she saw that you were being taken care of, she left. The nurses said that you needed a blood transfusion, and went to look for your mom, but she was nowhere to be found. I wondered out loud if I was a match, and the doctor searched for your records. We’re both O-negative. They set me up and drew blood, and the blood transfusion was under way. Guess it was a good thing I didn’t cut today, huh?
Anyhow, they drew enough blood and sent me on my way. I stayed in the lobby to write this card, hopefully my story didn’t annoy you too much. I just wanted to say thank you for not pushing me away, and just letting me be who I am comfortable with being. My mom was often silent at home, and it killed me; it seemed like she never forgave me for my dad abandoning us. But when you were quiet, I understood it as an invitation to do as I pleased, and I’ll never forget that. Hope you get better soon.
Stunned, you put the card down. You never realized that this was how he felt, and you began to regret not asking him how he was. It might have cracked your defenses, but you now understood that you needed one another more than you expected to help each other get through the circumstances you were both in. You lay in bed with your left hand still holding the card by your side, and you felt like reaching for the remote. As you turned on the television, the first thing that was on was a news report about a vehicular homicide. You tried your best to sit up, but froze as you heard the identification of the victim. It was Joshua. Apparently, he felt faint as he walked up the hill from the emergency room, and fell into the street, where a car, unable to see past the crest of the hill, unknowingly ran over his limp body, killing him. You broke down. You tried your best to yell, but your body denied you the capacity to. You covered your face with your hands, clutching desperately at your hair, not understanding why this happened. Each breath you drew brought you more pain as anguish racked your body. You cried quietly until the tears no longer frequented your face. When the last staggered breaths were drawn, you realized that Joshua, this complete stranger to you, gave his life that you might live. With that knowledge, you fought to find closure through it all. You found disbelief, you found anger, you found humiliation, and you found guilt. But finally, after everything, you found gratefulness.
And so you went on living.
Tragedies have always found themselves in the limelight, becoming fulcra of unity around which communities gather. As students of UCSB, more and more it seems like this year has been a year for us to pause and reflect on our own community. With the riot from Deltopia and now the death of seven students, including the shooter, we are gradually becoming unfortunately familiar with regret and mourning. This latest shooting in particular has caught me off guard in terms of how much of a burden it is upon my heart. To think that one of the victims was on the phone with his father not even an hour before he was shot is heart-wrenching. It’s in times like these that people of all beliefs, all cultures, and all upbringings ask, “Why?” and though they scan the skies desperately, the meaninglessness of the brutality is only magnified.
Tonight, I mourn the condition of a community I have grown to love. Coming in as a freshmen, hearing about the reputation as a party school, I was terrified. And yet, I found the most open, friendly, welcoming students on campus. There was trust in those days – trust that we would respect each other, trust that we would take care of one another, and trust that we would all leave UCSB, grateful for the memories and the preparation it provided for the “real world.” And now, I cannot help but feel as if that trust has been broken by a single individual. When we question how we as the future generation can make a difference, how we as students can contribute to society, how we as a community can improve the condition of the world around us, we never expected, and never realized, the power to change borne by a single individual. And yet, if this is the effect one man can have, what’s stopping us all from using our own God-given abilities to do the opposite, and perpetuate a more hopeful tomorrow? Not as individuals will we overcome, but as a unified coalition; solitude only bears forth calamity, but to stand in one accord arms us with the strength to rise above what has happened and look onwards to what is to come. In this time of healing, we must learn again what it is to trust. We dare not live for the betterment of our own lives any longer, but that we might enrich the stories of those around us until we all come to the full measure of our portions in this life.
The dead can speak no more on the preciousness of their own lives, having had their lives robbed from them without opportunity to resist; we the living bear the silence of these victims as guilt, as sorrow, as regret, as pain, as loss, and as sacrifice. However, this silence is not merely an event for us to look back upon when we leave these grounds – that would be an insult to their memories. The silence these victims leaves behind will be a lasting call to grow as a campus and even beyond the boundaries of Henley Gate when we leave, bearing a message that speaks to the effect of: “Don’t take what you have for granted. Your education, your passion, and your characters will all mold this world in ways that we never had the privilege of experiencing. Don’t consume yourselves with just focusing on improving UCSB, but expand your visions to encompass the world around you. Do big things for us, the ones who were stripped of the joy of seeing how we could affect the world positively.”
The situation was born from an imperfect heart in an imperfect world, shattering the hearts of thousands within the community. And now, we as a community ought not have a more pressing goal than to greet one another with our shards of hearts, exchanging them with one another as we knit ourselves tightly around the memories of the lost. We all offer our prayers and condolences to the families of the deceased, praying in earnest that we might finally wake up and realize that we are together, that we are united, that we are one. In unity, we stand vigil over the memories of the victims. IV, my thoughts, prayers, and my heart go with you; I can only ask that you treasure them as your own, and that these shattered hearts heal not as many, but as one.
Day by slow day, the grind remains;
hot weather breathing down your neck, it stains
the white Hanes t-shirt underneath your v-shirt,
neck well-bronzed like Hollywood to be sure.
A preacher is calling out the names
of the people around, bringing to them shame.
When the people are crowned, singing to them fame
how the walking get crippled, the standing are now lame.
Make me tame, make me live, just never let me give
an ounce of my freedom for the glory of a crib.
The glorified McRib, the ancient Irish jig,
a pitcher full of alcohol from which they take a swig.
The life we live is just a race to die first,
the heat gets the best of us, Miami has the thirst.
Should nets curse the ocean, a boiling vat of salt
the scars come down faster than a fall on asphalt.
Take a malt and just halt, looking out onto the shore,
and see a world of distance from things we soon abhor.