By Halloween the marquees of neighborhood casinos were back to their regular clothes—back to sporting steak and lobster specials and slot tournament details. The LED behemoths on Las Vegas Boulevard had already come out of their state of prayer and stillness, exchanging their black and white cloaks for their usual eye-popping spectrums of 4K graphics.
The electronic sign in front of the CVS on Valle Verde held out through the summer, wearing its “VEGAS STRONG” across all four seasons. I passed it every time I drove to church this year. One unassuming day in August, however, the sign was blinking and wearing new clothes: “12 Pack of Coke $3.99.” I found it oddly tender to witness the sign loosen its grip and move forward in its grief. I also winced at its moving on—it made me think about the victims’ families. Oh, the frustrating duality of the goodness and audacity of life going on.
I drove by Mandalay Bay the other day. The tall windows way up high were no longer broken and jagged. They had been healed and now gleamed as gold as ever. I could not tell where they were broken or where it happened. The killing field across the street was empty too. An opaque fence now stood guard around the hallowed ground. Crime scene spray paint, debris, and overturned gates no longer peppered the area, but when I stopped and listened closely I found that chaos still lingered in the air.
After the shooting, we in Las Vegas were immediate in our expressions of grief. We built the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden in less than a week after the massacre—from idea to design to permits to donations to work to completion. In that same week we also draped our valley with a rainbow of memorial t-shirts, auto decals, flowers, billboards, candles, and bracelets. Before October was even over, the Clark County Museum had a display full of artifacts from the memorials on the Strip. In less than three weeks after the shooting, we already had an archive.
Perhaps this abundant need to do something speaks to our glitzy, showy roots as residents of the entertainment capital of the world. Or perhaps it speaks to the universal human need to be seen and to feel like we have some kind of control.
As I reflected on the immediate aftermath last year, I couldn’t wail and cry and mourn big enough to express the gravity of tragedy. But I learned that I don’t have to. God is still providing streams in the desert. Aside from the fifty-eight murders of the massacre, I personally experienced six unexpected deaths of friends over the course of the past year. It has been a great period of grief and lament. I have learned to better rest in the infinite.
On Monday, October 1, 2018 at 10:05 p.m. the lights went out on the Las Vegas Strip. The city marquees went dark to remember the fifty-eight lives murdered a year ago. Earlier that day I went back to the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. A bride and groom posed for photos. Just past the sign, a large group of pilgrims prayed in a circle while a mix of mourners, European tourists, and news crews milled about the area. Someone had put up a huge heart-shaped display case full of fifty-eight framed photos of the victims.
At the healing garden that evening, I stood among the crowd—moved by the constant stream of families wearing matching t-shirts emblazoned with the name of their lost loved one and survivors wearing orange ribbons, hats, and cowboy boots. The crowd gasped and gawked as a giant beam of light suddenly appeared across the dusk sky. The mayor jumped on the microphone and ordered all of the politicians and dignitaries to turn around and to behold the sky. In her awe she proclaimed that it was “evidence of a higher power.”
What a marvelous juxtaposition it is when glory invades a broken world. The thick atmosphere of the unusually humid night and the gorgeous sky lighting created a stunning cinematic silhouette of the sharpshooters on the surrounding rooftops.
Later at Macayo’s a large table full of survivors fellowshipped over tacos and margaritas while a small group of friends on the other side of the room celebrated a birthday. The booths lining the walls were filled with gabbing families. A happiness buzzed through the air as servers scurried to refill bowls of chips and chunky salsa. An odd comfort and sense of thankfulness fell on me as I sat in this old Vegas staple with my mother and father by my side, savoring our green corn tamales and recounting all the goodness we had seen on this sacred night.
Cover photo by Destiny Teasley.