Author: Crystal Woodman Miller
Dear Fellow Survivor,
Twenty-two years ago, when I survived the shootings at Columbine High School, there were very few words or sentiments that could bring comfort or solace. That is still true today; words fall significantly short, they feel small and trite. However, I felt compelled to at least try to convey some of the comfort I wish was shared with me.
When Columbine happened people would often ask why I shared my story. I would express how desperate I was to prevent mass shootings because I never wanted another person to experience the pain and suffering my friends, my classmates, my community, and myself did on April 20, 1999.
I am deeply sorry that I have failed you. That we have failed you. I am sorry tragedies like yours have become so commonplace. I wish I could erase the grief and sorrow that have now become a part of your story. This is not the way it is supposed to be. I want you to know you are not alone.
You are now a part of a club you never asked or wished to be a part of. In this club you are known, you are seen, you are heard, and you are valued. Your story matters greatly. In this club, you are accepted and you belong. You are safe; safe to be you. In this club, you have permission and space to feel and process your emotions. We are not uncomfortable or scared by the intensity of those feelings because we have felt them, too. In fact, your thoughts, feelings, and emotions are completely normal, they don’t make you strange, broken, or weird. In this club, you get to heal at a pace that feels safe and healthy for you. There are no expectations to move faster or slower in your healing journey, let your process take as long as it needs. Yet, in this club, we will also support and encourage you to utilize the tools and resources at your disposal to face, navigate, and move through your trauma to find healing, strength, and purpose on the other side. Because you will find you are not just a survivor, you are an overcomer.
In this club, hope can become your reality.
Hope, you see, is a choice. One day- whether you believe it now or not- you will have the opportunity to make that choice.
You may be numb with shock in the chaos of this moment. I know that though the immediate danger has passed, you no longer feel safe. Your innocence and security have been stolen. I know what it’s like to continually replay the event over and over again in your head. I know the inability to shake the sights, sounds, and smells. I know the crippling guilt and shame, the unanswerable questions of why -and the second-guessing of your response. I know the nightmares that haunt your sleep. I know the loneliness you fill even in a room full of people. I know what it feels like to be used and abused by the media. I know how overwhelming it is to experience every emotion and yet, feel absolutely nothing at all. I know the tears you want to shed, yet they run dry. I know the disbelief and confusion of staring at an ever-growing makeshift memorial. I know the grief that makes your soul ache. I know the weight of fear. I know the anger. I know you feel as if it might all crush you at any moment. I know it feels impossible, but I promise, THIS IS NOT THE END.
Hope is patient. Hope will wait.
And hope will bear you up and carry you steadily forward. Hope is a lifeline that can steady and anchor you against any storm.
I know this because I chose hope and slowly- miraculously- things began to change in me. Fear was replaced with courage, anxiety with peace, bitterness with forgiveness, despair with joy, and negativity with gratitude.
But hope is not found in a system or institution, it can’t be bought, sold, or traded. It’s not in a government, its laws, policies, or reform. If anything we need heart reform.
For me, hope is found in a Savior, in the person of Jesus Christ. For you, hope may be found elsewhere, in anything higher than yourself. No matter where you find hope, you must be willing to look for it.
Hope begins with us and ripples out into our homes, our places of work, our neighborhoods, and our communities.
Hope grows and unfurls in us when we open ourselves to the possibility to live again, to see each moment and each breath as a precious gift.
Hope is extended when we stop fighting against one another and begin to fight for one another. When we remember that each person we come in contact with has a unique story and is facing a battle, we offer grace, love, and honor.
There is so much more I want to say to you but I will end here except to offer this: For those asking if it ever gets easier, I say it does not- should not- ever get easier to witness death and violence. We cannot be desensitized to that. Instead, let us channel our emotions toward action, change and hope.
We are among those who have lived to see another day. We are warriors of hope. Refuse to give up; refuse to give in.
Your friend, your sister in hope, and fellow survivor,
Crystal Woodman Miller