This is the last blog post uploaded from iWeb that wasn’t food-related. It’s hard to believe nearly a year has gone by since this tragedy in my hometown. This summer I was able to go home for a few weeks and was touched by the red and black ribbons that still adorned nearly every roadside tree, mailbox, and light pole. Despite what’s transpired this year, my town is and always has been, one of the sweetest small towns in America.
These last few days, I’ve pulled up iWeb with every intention of writing about the trip that Steve and I just returned from in Vietnam and Cambodia. That’s what I do every time we get back – write and post pictures.
But I can’t.
Not yet. I will get to it soon, but it feels strange to write about all these wonderful personal things when all the people in my hometown are aching so badly right now that I can feel it in my bones thousands of miles away.
It seems this week that Chardon, of all places, has become a familiar name in international news. It’s now a word associated with that other term that’s become an unfortunate part of our generation’s vocabulary: school shooting. Let me get this right. The long list that includes Columbine, Jonesboro, and Virginia Tech also includes…Chardon? It can’t be.
As I hung around online Monday night, looking at last posts on Facebook from my friends in the Eastern Hemisphere and the first thoughts of the day from those in the West, I saw a little Chardon High School logo pop up with a caption that asked people to pray for the kids. In Googling that one simple word, I was utterly shocked at what I saw unfolding at my alma mater.
It’s something your brain can’t quite process as fast as your eyes are reading it. With just the implication that something bad was happening in Chardon, Ohio, my mind immediately went to weather, car accident, or something else beyond personal control. Those seemed the only natural possibilities.
When describing Chardon to people who’ve never been there, the best way I can equate it with something they’ll understand is by saying “Back to the Future”. It’s that cute little Every Town U.S.A., complete with town square. Even the town square itself checks all the boxes: library, coffee shop, local theatre. I’d half expect Doc Brown to climb up the clock tower on the courthouse to conduct an experiment. Because yes, there’s a clock tower.
It’s not a place where mass shootings happen. It’s just not.
But I suppose now it is. After the utter confusion, came the deepest sadness, and a pride-filled anger I didn’t know I could have regarding my hometown. My eyes still fill with tears after reading each new story that comes out about the victims. As the parents speak about the plans they had to pick out colleges which are now being changed into picking out caskets, I’m overcome with grief for them. My own parents and I got to walk away from that same school 13 years ago to follow through with those same plans. Why can’t they? And then comes the anger. How dare this kid just waltz into school and take 3 lives, attempt to take 2 more, and forever change thousands of others? How dare he put this dark cloud over our school and our city? What gave him the right?
I didn’t know the victims or their families. But I know the city and its people, and I know that school like I was there yesterday. So I can reasonably imagine that the residents of Chardon are doing the same as I am, remembering and clinging to all that’s good. The cafeteria where such horrible things happened this past Monday is the same cafeteria where I walked in the first day of freshman year and promptly sat down across from a person who is still a very dear friend to me. It’s the place I sat in study hall and shared laughs with students and teachers alike. It’s where I learned the basics of driving a car in Driver’s Ed and how to flip myself over a teammate’s leg at dance team practice. It’s the place I got a little too excited for tator tot day.
These kinds of memories were heartlessly stolen from the current students, but I hope in time that the survivors will hold onto as many of their positive memories as they can. Because good things — quality education, lifelong friendships, quintessential teenage experiences — do happen at Chardon High School.
And for Demetrius Hewlin, Russell King Jr., and Daniel Parmertor, the three whose lives and promising futures were cut so senselessly short, I pray they rest in peace.