My friend Lew is a connector. She’s worked in public service all of her adult life and her approach to her career and to life are one and the same: live and love. Do both with joy and justice.
When she invited me to be part of a girls’ trip to Vegas with a handful of her dearest friends from across the country, I didn’t hesitate to accept. I knew I’d have a great time.
It was early spring when we planned this trip—we secured plane tickets, reserved accommodations at the same resort property and most importantly, bought advance tickets to Magic Mike Live.
For months we all exchanged Facebook messages and texts, excited about the getaway. Along the way good and bad things happened to all of us. A week prior to the trip, I was laid off for the first time in my life. I was grateful I’d pre-paid for every aspect of the journey so I could still go and not feel guilty about spending money.
Then, three days before the first members of our party were to arrive in the desert, a white, cowardly American man opened fire onto the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival from his hotel room at Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip. He killed 59 people including himself and injured over 500 more.
A domestic terrorist attack right across town from where our weekend was to happen.
Before you send me mail about how I categorized this attack, let me remind you of the definition of terrorism, “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”
Note: it doesn’t say “only” or “exclusively” for political purposes. So even if this coward’s motive wasn’t political, it’s still terrorism.
Anyway, we were all horrified and exchanged messages that we wouldn’t let this terrible tragedy dampen our spirits. I expressed that I’d like to leave flowers for the victims at some point during the trip and the girls agreed it was a good idea.
Aside from a few hiccups (our hostess, who is allergic, got stung by a bee; Channing Tatum came to the Magic Mike performance immediately after ours so we didn’t see him), the trip was a blast. We shared meals, lounged by the pool and waved fake money at brilliant dancers. We concluded the weekend with a lavish French-themed brunch at the Aria hotel.
But I couldn’t shake the guilt. Every cab or ride share driver we had in the city was clearly traumatized. One girl, who transported victims to the hospital in the thick of the chaos, told us it was the worst day of her life. Another driver was a part-time nurse who was still caring for the injured. Yet another openly wept that he knew he’d dropped off some of the people who lost their lives.
Every storefront, hotel, casino, porn shop, wedding chapel—you name it—had a sign that read “Vegas Strong.”
Here I was, a serial concert-goer, who had just attended my 40th U2 concert a few weeks prior. I’ve been to several outdoor shows and festivals. I’ve been in crowds larger and smaller than the one those country fans were in that night. I wasn’t in Nevada when the tragedy occurred, but I had survivors’ guilt.
Guilt because it could have been me; guilt because there was no disruption to the fun-filled weekend we had in their town; guilt because I hadn’t paid my respects.
So the last afternoon, as our group was wandering and shopping and behaving as girls do as they wind down from a girls’ trip, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was on the brink of tears and filled to the brim with emotion.
I announced that I was going to the memorial and anyone who wanted to tag along was welcome to join me. One girl, who I had never met before this trip, decided to join me.
Our cab driver, another who was impacted that unimaginable night, told us that the spot across from Mandalay Bay wasn’t much to see, but we should go to the Las Vegas sign down the road, where a gentleman from Chicago had planted crosses for the victims. We agreed and arrived to a very grim, but peaceful and beautiful memorial. Candles, notes, posters, flowers, stuffed animals and balloons lined the patch of grass so thick it was difficult to find space to walk. Though we were out in the brilliant sunshine with cars whizzing past and journalists broadcasting live, the mourners were quiet and spoke in hushed tones, with reverence for the dead. Locals were thanking visitors like me for taking a moment to remember. How could we not?
My new friend and I separated to head back to the hotel, as my flight was a few hours earlier. I made the mistake of walking on the sidewalk outside where the massacre happened, glancing over the fence where the stage was still set up; remnants of attendees possessions still strung across the lawn. The negative energy was palpable and pulled me toward it.
The city was in shock and the air was raw with sadness. Consumed by this grief, I said a prayer, shed many tears and composed myself to head to the airport.
Those innocent souls shall not be forgotten.