When I started at Yale almost four years ago, I didn’t know much about Connecticut. I had never heard of the Metro North. I knew my mom’s college roommate lived in West Hartford, though I had no idea where that was. But I did know the name of the small town where, nearly two years before I started college, 26 people died in a mass shooting at an elementary school. Newtown. That was my knowledge of Connecticut.
Last week I visited the New Haven Museum. As I paid the entrance fee, the clerk, an older man, asked me, “Where are you from?” The most basic introductory question. “Florida,” I said. He asked where in Florida. I told him Boca Raton, thinking he might recognize my hometown, best known for its Jewish retirees. But that wasn’t why he asked. “Is that near Parkland?” Yes, I responded. 15 minutes away. Neighbors.
Two days earlier, on Wednesday afternoon, my mom texted me. “Just letting you know, my babies,” she texted to a group chat with my siblings, my dad and me, “that there is a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland. Still ongoing but at least 20 injuries. Will keep you informed.” As I called her, frantic, panicking, CNN sent out a news alert about it. I walked from Bass to my room in Branford, phone pinned to my ear, trying and failing not to cry until I got back. I looked around campus, and no one else seemed to know. I wanted to scream.
Back in my room, my mind raced. Who did I know at Douglas? Many of my best friends from Jewish summer camp and my Jewish youth group had graduated from there. Camp. I realized that several of my campers, from when I worked as a counselor, are seniors at Douglas. I texted two girls, best friends, in a group chat, praying that they were okay. I had on CNN and saw video of students running from the school with their arms up. I hoped these girls were among them.
“Hi we’re okay we’re locked in a closet in a room I love you,” one of them wrote. At least they were together. But that’s not a place 17-year-old girls should ever have to be — alone or together. They made it out. One of them has a younger sister, and one of her best friends died.
I texted some of my close friends at Yale to let them know what was going on in my community, and they responded with kindness. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that all across campus, people weren’t paying attention. Could I blame them? Las Vegas. Orlando. Sutherland Springs. Newtown. Parkland. This is our America. If we all devoted all of our energy to each of these massacres, life would become impossible. It’s too much.
Eventually I shut the news off. I went to Blue State and tried to cheer up with a coffee, and I sat down at a table to work. I had to finish a presentation for my 9 a.m. class the next morning. A friend saw me and came over to say hi, either unaware of the news or unaware that it happened in the town neighboring my own. I told her, and she gave me a hug, and she said all the right things. But her world didn’t change with this shooting. Mine did.
Now that the shooting happened days ago, and it’s drifting into the past, I get the feeling that people don’t want to talk about it. The Yale administration didn’t send an email about it. There’s been no renewed student activism for gun control. I sit in class reading tweets from friends back home. I call my camp friends, swapping stories about how we can comfort our campers who lived through hell. We can’t.
This time, it’s personal. I’m not forgetting. I’m not moving on. I know that I and the Douglas survivors have my congressman — my dad — to count on. He has handled the unthinkable with grace. I told him the day after the shooting that he must talk about Douglas and these 17 students and teachers for the rest of his political career. These are his constituents, and I know he owes this to them. He knows it, too. And when a devastated friend said to me that people will forever associate Douglas with this violence and heartbreak, I told her that they will also remember the students who survived and emerged from that school ready to act.
During our four years at Yale, we often have the privilege to feel immune to the hardships of the “outside world.” But our Yale bubble is not impermeable. When a hardship transports us back to our homes, our communities, the outside world, we must be there for each other. We don’t have the privilege of staying silent.
In Pirkei Avot, the Teachings of our Fathers, Rabbi Shammai says, “Greet every person with a cheerful face.” We’ve all struggled to comprehend this tragedy. But let’s emerge from it with more compassion for each other. Let’s remember the 17 people who died, even though tuning it out hurts less. And let’s never stop fighting to make this country better.
Gabrielle Deutch is a senior in Branford College. Her father, Congressman Ted Deutch, represents Florida’s 22nd district. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .