This Isn’t What I Planned to Write

I know I said I’d be back here writing over a month ago, and I had every intention of doing so. I planned on writing the answers to some “thought-provoking questions” as an outlet for myself, and anyone else who may have stumbled upon it. I planned on perhaps writing a review of a book I’m currently reading (and should be done with by now). I planned on writing about a recent episode of Dateline or 48 Hours.

I wasn’t planning on writing about another tragedy happening close to me. The third–or fourth if you count the DC Sniper attacks–I’ve been personally effected by since 2001. I’d hesitate to say it’s becoming a trend every few years, but I’d also be lying if I didn’t say I’m noticing a pattern.

Maybe it’s a pattern with me–wherever I am, these things follow. Or wherever I go, there’s some sort of anomaly that happens while I’m there. Or maybe I’ve been in some of the worst places in recent years of this country at the worst times. Or maybe God has slowly, over the last fifteen years, revealed to me His heart, His feelings, and His love for what He’s created. Everything and everyone He’s created.

Because let’s be honest: I was angry after 9/11. I was angry at bin Laden. I was angry at al Qaeda once I grasped what had happened to our country at just fourteen years old. I mean, the organization attempted to murder my own father that day. I had every right to be upset. I had every right to want bin Laden, and the rest of them, to suffer the way so many innocent people did on that day. I, like most Americans, was upset and stripped of my innocence when it comes to this world and the people in it.

I was angry at the DC Sniper just a year later. Living in his area of attacks, I was angry I wasn’t allowed to walk off the bus without being escorted by a policeman every morning. I was angry we couldn’t even pump gas without being covered by a tarp and feeling the need to always be moving because we had no idea if he was staring at us through the barrel of his sniper rifle.

I was angry with Cho after he murdered a friend of a friend, a former classmate, at Virginia Tech in 2007. I was angry that anyone could ever point a gun at that sweet girl (let alone the others also killed) with the intention of killing her. I was angry her life was cut so short when she could have been so much more in this world. I was angry he decided to go down, taking his own life, along with 30+ others for no sensible reason.

And today, I’m angry that there are people out there who are suffering. I’m angry that they’re suffering because their loved one is gone for, once again, a reason that doesn’t make sense to us. A reason that, perhaps, could have had a different outcome if maybe, just maybe, that person had not spent so much of his life suffering himself.

And I feel angry that whatever was going on in this man’s life, he chose to go out the way that he did. Once again, a miserable person has dragged down more than fifty people as a result of his own unhappiness, his own feelings, and his own agenda.

Right? Isn’t that what it comes down to? I look at this man and I see so much unhappiness, so much hatred, and so much darkness. And I have to wonder what brought this man to this point. What happens in a person’s life to make them want to evilly laugh as he killed innocent people begging for their lives in a bathroom? What was so awful within his heart and mind that he decided this was the way to go?

Seeing the response from this community over the last two days, I’ve realized something. And perhaps I’ll be chastised for saying this, but I’ll say it anyway. It’s sad to me that this is what it takes for a community to come together and define ourselves as “one” and to say and show we “love” one another. This is what it takes for us to pray for each other. So what were we doing before? Where was this love and unity prior to Sunday? Where were the prayers for all of those suffering before this attack–perhaps even those suffering who committed such acts? I wish it didn’t take the loss of fifty innocent lives in our community for us to take a step back, see the big picture, and love each other, accept each other, and encourage each other. I wish we did this anyway, without a tragedy catapulting us in this direction.

So after the dust settles and we find ourselves back in our usual routine, feeling whole again after that hollow, carved-out feeling disappears beneath our skin, may we remember what it felt like in these days to love, accept, and pray for one another. And maybe we will feel inclined to continue to love, accept, and pray for each other every day. Because we will never know how much someone could be suffering inside and could use some love, acceptance, and prayer from complete strangers.

“For what you intended for evil, God intended for good.” -Genesis 50:20

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Birthday Collection

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Born on August 1 in Germany.
My 11th birthday in Virginia. Spice Girls themed, of course!
My 11th birthday in Virginia. Spice Girls themed, of course!
My 17th Birthday in Florida with new friends.
My 17th Birthday in Florida with new friends.
"It's mah birthday!" 18 at Downtown Disney.
“It’s mah birthday!” 18 at Downtown Disney.
Finally 21 at Cafe Tu Tu Tango in Orlando, Florida.
Finally 21 at Cafe Tu Tu Tango in Orlando, Florida.
22nd birthday margarita at Cafe Tu Tu Tango in Orlando, Florida.
22nd birthday margarita at Cafe Tu Tu Tango in Orlando, Florida.
23rd Birthday at Margaritaville at CityWalk in Orlando, Florida.
23rd Birthday at Margaritaville at CityWalk in Orlando, Florida.
24th birthday shot at Kobe Japanese Steakhouse in Longwood, Florida.
24th birthday shot at Kobe Japanese Steakhouse in Longwood, Florida.

 

10 Years in Florida

In two days, it will be 10 years since I left my beloved Springfield, Virginia and made the hardest move of my life to Tampa, Florida. I cannot believe I have lived in this state for a decade and I must say, this is a huge event in my life because prior to moving to Florida, I had never lived in any city or state for longer than two years. And now, after ten years, I find myself still here in Florida, but am happy to announce that this will be my FINAL year in Florida.

Growing up a military family, I never knew what it meant to have roots somewhere or feel like a certain place was “home.” Everything in my life was temporary — my house, my friends, my school, my dad’s job, and the place we lived. Every two years, I got a fresh start and a new chance to make friends and experience a new place. This never bothered me when I was younger, probably because I never knew any better. I never knew what it meant to be “from” somewhere (and to a degree, I still don’t; I do not consider myself “from” Florida) and what it meant to really love where you live. That is, until we lived in Virginia. I was blessed to live there first when I was 10 and 11 years of age, and then a second time when I was 14 and 15. While getting off to a rather rough and awkward start in high school, it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I realized I truly loved my life, had made life-long friends, and felt like I had the world by the tail.

But then there was that dark possibility, and extreme likelihood, that this would be my final year to experience my life as I knew it (in Virginia) and loved it. I didn’t want to believe even the mere thought that everything I knew and loved in my life could be taken away so quick and so soon. Besides, even if I was given the news that our family would be, once again, moving, I would just stay in Virginia and live with a friend for my final two years of high school. Totally plausible idea, right? People do it all the time in towns that are saturated with military families. That is, until the county decided to make a new rule — you cannot attend a public school in this county unless you reside with your parent or legal guardian. Meaning…my parents would have to give up legal guardianship of me and I would legally no longer be their child. And my parents were not about to do that because they “weren’t done raising me.” Rightfully so.

Then the news came. April 2003. I arrived home from lacrosse practice and my mom sat me down in our formal living room and broke the news. I can still hear her telling me, to this day, “Taylor, we’re moving.” And in slow motion almost, I hear her say, “To Florida.”

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The grand irony in my life — a family vacation photo from the year prior. (2002, Disney World) 

Most kids would be thrilled to move to Florida. After all, it’s where Disney World is, it’s home to all the theme parks, beaches, and cruise terminals. Oh and it never snows? It’s sunny nearly every day of the year? How perfect could life possibly get for a child?

Well, in my eyes, my life already was perfect. No amount of sunshine or Mickeys or beaches or roller coasters could add to the perfection. Why? Because I already had what I had wanted all along — a place I loved and that I truly called “home.”

I fought it hard. I fought to stay in Virginia and live my life the way I had been living it and for once not have everything turned upside down. But it didn’t work. We were leaving, and that was that.

Suddenly my life went from this:

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My journal from sophomore year.

To this:

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My new journal started in Florida.

“This is now officially a new chapter in ‘My Life.’ The cycle stops. ‘Can miles really separate us from being with friends? If we want to be with someone we love, aren’t we already there?’ -Richard Bach”

I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. All I knew to do was write. But I didn’t even know what to write. I just sat in my room on my twin bed while listening to music and pulled out a pen and this notebook given to me by a friend as a going away gift. Little did that person know what a therapeutic and helpful gift they had given me.

When this journal is opened up, right on the opposite side of the title page, is a “Miss List.” I created a list of the names of everyone that I missed. This list was two columns and one page long. See some of it below.

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Boys’ names are blurred out. What can I say? I liked and missed many of them.

Though I don’t have  a picture of it, I also made a huge bulletin board of pictures of all of my missed friends and wrote their names in paint around the border.  It was also another therapeutic activity I did to help me process everything that was happening.

Here’s the first page of this journal, and when I read it, even to this day, I can feel the pain I felt when I wrote this. I’m not sure if that’s something that can be felt by anyone reading this passage, but let me tell you, it was there.

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At the top of each page, I wrote a line from “I Wish You Were Here” by Incubus.

Okay, so hopefully you get the picture. I was lonely. I was upset. I didn’t understand. I never thought my life would be the same…ever. And since I’ve never been known to be dramatic in my life, I want to reiterate a small picture that I had placed on the title page of my journal. I felt like a complete and total loser:

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Yikes.

So the point of this is not to talk about how miserable I was, or how lonely I felt, to make anyone feel pity for me because that is not my intention. To me, as I reflect on the last 10 years I’ve spent in this, as I called it, “Gosh-forsaken state,” I see it as the biggest growing period of my life. And quite frankly, quite possibly the biggest blessing of my life. It’s so true when they say that sometimes it takes “coming out of your box” to grow as an individual. And that is exactly what has happened to me in the last 10 years.

I was thrown out of my box, frankly, and hit the ground hard, alone. But I learned how to rely on not only myself, but on God. He had a plan and that plan was far greater than any plan I had for myself. (Like staying in Virginia and making my parents give up guardianship of me…for what reason? So I could stay in my box.) God knew that I would be provided with new friends. It wouldn’t be easy for me to break in, but I did.

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Non-homecoming senior year of high school with new friends (October 2004)

He knew that when I was in Virginia, I was on the road to not getting in to any public university because my grades were that bad. He knew that through moving to Florida, with some of the worst (read: easiest) school systems in the country, I’d be able to pull my cumulative GPA high enough to get into not just one, or two, but three public universities in Florida. Not only that, but I was also able to get three-quarters of my tuition paid for by the Florida Lottery. (Something that is no longer offered, unfortunately.) And though I didn’t know it at the time, the university I ended up attending (which I soon regretted for reasons not stated — but now do not regret) was the university where my now husband was waiting for me. (Never in a million years would I have believed if you told me that I’d even be married in this life, let alone that my husband was waiting for me in Florida!) It would take three years after I started college for us to meet, but when we did meet, it happened at the perfect time in both of our lives. God knew that there was a precious little animal that He created that needed to be rescued from death. This dog was just waiting for me to rescue him and God knew that in 2003 when he brought me to Florida. This dog has brought more joy to my life than I could have ever imagined. (And I never considered myself a dog person prior!)

I could continue to list the many blessings that I’ve received in the last ten years, but I’m not here to boast or bore. I’m here to say that though I would never wish the military life on anyone, not even my worst enemy, I can say that I believe I am a better person for it. Though moving here was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, I can’t say I would have it any other way because clearly, I was meant to be in Florida. Even though I thought I had my life all planned out in Virginia, God had a greater plan for me. It took me many years to see that, and while at times I doubted God’s reasoning, now I know that He had His hand in it the entire time.

I’m excited to take my two biggest blessings, my husband and my dog, with me to the next place. And I hope that once I leave, I won’t have to return, but I can look back on this place and see it as a place of growth and gifts. Not as a place of misery and loneliness like it was for so long. And I hope that somewhere out there (hopefully California, but as we know God sometimes has different plans than I) is a place for me and my little family that we can all love and truly call “home.”

And in that place, my own children can live a life of stability and have roots in a place they can be “from” and truly love.

It’s Been Bothering Me For Days

Thank you Twitter. Because of you, I found out on Monday morning while eating a bagel and drinking coffee before going to the gym that a man had committed suicide at my college alma mater. I didn’t even know that I followed UCF on Twitter, honestly. Probably because I had never really seen (or payed that much attention to) their tweets. But this one… it really reeled me in.

Next tweet: Tower 1 is still evacuated.

Tower 1? That was built, and opened my first year at UCF. It’s evacuated because someone committed suicide?

Next tweet: UCF classes are cancelled until noon.

Ummm…what? Classes had never been cancelled the entire four years I was there. Oh wait, I take that back. There was hurricane — what was it — Charley? No. Umm… Some hurricane I don’t even remember its name. Anyway, the point is that classes were cancelled until noon and I had NEVER heard of that happening.

It’s an interesting thing, what happens when news first breaks. We the public hear bits and pieces of information in the beginning. Officials/police/whoever are only telling so much, and therefore we are only hearing so little. These little pieces are like little pieces of bait — they attract us to it, but at the same time, it’s just not the whole thing and we don’t know what the whole thing is, yet. And humans are curious in nature, so we keep tuning in for more.

And boy, is Twitter just perfect for bait. 140 characters of bait, to be exact.

I didn’t know much. A man had committed suicide in Tower 1 was just about all I knew. And it’s sad whenever someone commits suicide, let’s be honest.

But then more bait came as the day went on. And I hear more and more of the real story. What really happened. And what really [apparently] led this man to commit suicide in his dorm. And oh my goodness, I did not like what I was hearing.

Maybe it’s because I was really upset over the Sandy Hook shooting, and I’m frankly still trying to process that one. Most of the world may have moved on already, but I know those parents are still grieving the loss of their children. And then I find out, against all odds in this world — there may have been a planned mass shooting at my former college? REALLY? 

I guess it’s not that surprising, when you think about the amount of people that go to UCF. When I first arrived at UCF in 2005, they had just under 40,000 students. That was a lot back then. Then, when I graduated four years later, there were 50,000. Now, the enrollment is 60,000. It is officially the largest university in the United States and also, just to throw this out there, the number one least rigorous university in the United States. Yay.

So when you have a college that is as big as a small Tennessee town just north of Nashville (Clarksville, to be exact) where I used to live, the chances of having a psycho within that populous are higher. 

But gosh, this whole thing has been bothering me for days.

I’m still skeptical on whether or not this person actually planned on killing anyone — because you never know with these people. Maybe he just made it look like he was going to do that so he would get national recognition for his suicide? We all know these people love the attention they get when they do this. If there was no “plan” discovered for a possible massacre, he’d just be another person that committed suicide in his room. Unfortunately there are a lot of those and yes, while they do make the news, they certainly don’t become the top story on “World News Tonight” two nights in a row.

But, no matter what, when you buy thousands of rounds of ammunition, have multiple guns, a check list ending with “good luck and give them hell” — you can’t help but think, geez, this could have been very, very bad.

Now that I have more than just little pieces of information, and I hear (what appears to be, at the moment) the whole story, I feel absolutely disgusted, and sad. But also thankful because there were things that happened that were absolutely God’s doing and seriously, THANK GOD.

My only questions, beside “Why would someone do this” which is the obvious question, would have to be: 1) what was a 30-year-old doing living on campus in a dorm? And, 2) What made him “change his mind” and not fire that gun at his roommate?

The fact of the matter is, if he had shot his roommate, there would have been much more destruction. He could have taken another life besides his own, at least, and possibly gone into the hallway and shot more (like what they think was his plan when setting off the fire alarm).

After reading more about it this week, I also feel as if he really did pick the right person NOT to shoot. As obvious and crazy as that may sound — it’s true. This roommate, from what I’ve pieced together (from reading the news and also doing some web-sleuthing of my own), was in the Air Force and is now at UCF  [probably] on the GI Bill. He has military training, he’s been in the presence of guns, and he’s been around violence before (all things that your average college, and particularly UCF, student just don’t have experience with). I’ve also found that those who enlist in the military, or are officers, or go to military academies (or just any young adult in the military in general) mature very, very quickly. This man was all of those. And he was the one that called 911. His military training, history, and background were the reason that he was calm on the 911 call. It’s the reason he hid in his bathroom and away from the door and the shared wall, where he was afraid he could possibly be fired at by this man. It’s the reason, frankly, that the police came in time to stop it.

There could not have been a better person to be in this position if you ask me. Arabo Babakhani, or “BK” as I’ve heard you go by, if you’re reading this, I can say with absolute confidence and certainty that you a hero and a excellent representation of this nation’s great military. You did everything exactly right. And you’re incredibly brave.

What made this situation even more real to me was watching the 10-minute long police video of the UCF police raiding the dorm to find James’ lifeless body on the floor. It was morbid, but it was unedited and it was real. So real. And so sad, at the same time. I feel sad for him and for his family, really, because my real question is, what could be so bad in your life that this is what you decide to do? I just don’t understand it. I can’t begin to comprehend it all — but it is so, so upsetting to me that he chose to do this to himself and to his family. (And that goes for every other shooter that is responsible for taking so many innocent lives) Just watching that video, and seeing the lower half of his body on the floor of the dorm next to a small hand gun, and a huge rifle near the door, with the blood splatter on the wall, his television still playing and the horrible florescent light on overhead, and the fire alarm still blaring — that was a terrible sight and an image I can’t get rid of. It is all so sad to me, but I also realize it could have been so much worse.

I’ll conclude this ramble by offering one piece of advice: do not watch that police video.