The beginning of a memorial, last night, near the SPU campus.
  • AM
  • The beginning of a memorial, last night, near the SPU campus.
This is your country.

Deck the halls with the Seattle Symphony’s joyous Holiday Pops concerts!
Join conductor Stuart Chafetz and Broadway star N'Kenge for this dazzling program full of yuletide cheer.

This is the world we have built. And we should start really coming to terms with that. Yesterday, it played out again. Everything is horribly familiar. The mayor in a dark suit, speaking to cameras. The police tape, blowing in the breeze. Grown men in positions of power holding back tears. Students hugging each other. TV news vans, spiraling their big posts up in the air. Overhead, a helicopter. Thock-thock-thock-thock-thock-thock-thock.

Yesterday was an impossibly beautiful day—everything about it was extra-beautiful, until. College campuses are so grandly, old-fashionedly luxurious, all manicured lawns and flowers and budding youth. SPU sits right on a canal, where people were walking and biking and boating in the 70-degree weather. As the mayor said, June on a campus is a time to celebrate; the transitional moment of forward-looking hope and backward-looking nostalgia is palpable.

But then it was a different kind of day, the kind with a before and after.

Everyone plays their part. This is one of the real sicknesses of this kind of tragedy, that everything starts to look like a role. Truly, it is not. These are real people living through a traumatic, violent event. But to the disconnected nation, it becomes a tableau, a pageant, a re-run. This kind of violence is a re-run for this country, even for this city. Behind the scenes, TV news people fluff their hair a lot. Their camera operators grumble about them when they're not around. Everyone tries to elbow their way to the fronts of crowds. We all follow the police on Twitter. Students milling around are asked a half-dozen times if they were "there." Every tearful embrace is well-photographed.

Embrace, embrace, embrace. This is the kind of day where everyone walks around in pairs, in groups. Holding hands, leaning against, embracing. By evening, near the intersection full of crime tape, dozens upon dozens of students sat quietly on the lawn in circles. The air was still, the sun setting. People quietly sobbed. There was a lot of praying, eyes closed. Everyone was so young. Some adult with a name badge walked through the crowd, passing out tissues.

That's the other thing: The institution is ready for these things. Most institutions are now. And there's outrage to be had there, too—that we send generations to these campuses, and teach them to wear flip-flops in public showers and to practice safe sex and to never drink and drive and oh, yeah, here's how to go into lockdown. Here's what "shelter in place" means. The school's president and others said in part that a larger tragedy was averted because they had practiced this, drilled for this. And we've been doing that in schools for a long time now. Some days a fire drill, some days an earthquake drill, sometimes a we've-given-up-on-adequately-regulating-firearms-or-treating-mental-illness-so-you're-just-gonna-have-to-learn-to-duck drills. (I learned this in high school. There was an intercom code that meant, if we heard it, we were to close and lock the classroom door, turn out the lights, and stay away from the windows. Open the door for no one. Stay low.)

A 7 p.m. prayer service at SPU's campus was full to overflowing. Let it be said: This community looks ready to heal itself. There were Psalms and songs. The whole room sang along, harmonizing, louder and louder. "You are the everlasting God... You're the defender of the weak/You comfort those in need." The Psalms were deliberately paired—Psalm 22, "My god, my god, why have you forsaken me," and Psalm 23, "The lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing." The air was thick with the small sounds of hundreds of people crying at once. People occasionally rushed from the room. A baby cried.

There was a lot of love in that room. Heads on other shoulders, closed eyes and whispered prayers, voices raised together. There were prepared handouts titled "When Bad Things Happen," about dealing with crisis and trauma in as healthy a way as possible. The people whose job it is to step in were ready to do so, and the community seems ready to hold each other.

Support The Stranger

But this isn't a new story, and it's not a new event, not an unusual event, not a surprising event. There was a double-shooting this last weekend. There was a dramatic spate of gun violence in the city just a month ago. This is the world we've built. We're getting good at dealing with these tragedies now. We have practice drills. We have pre-written pamphlets. We can play Mad Libs with the details—the casualty math, the weaponry, the location. But this is all familiar. God, even this frustrated piece of writing, the hey-isn't-this-a-bit-too-familiar post the day after, it is also familiar. At the end of the night, starting to build out on the corner of West Nickerson and Third, was a very familiar kind of memorial, the beginning of it a few bouquets leaned against a street pole, yellow crime tape in the background.

So this is our country. We've made it, and it seems like we're sticking with it. We're paying a price, which is sending generations out into a world where school—at any level, elementary through college—is not safe. The mall is not safe. The streets are not safe. Maybe this time is a "not one more" moment. But we just had one of those, only weeks ago.

And here, now, yet again, comes "one more."