The Wilder Life: September 2015
Not my town. Not my town. Not my town.
By Amanda Jean Harris
We say that God is good all of the time. And we say that we believe all things work together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose. And we say that what Satan intends for evil, God uses for good.
And so what happens when the bad thing happens?
It happens everyday – to other people, in other places. On those days, I can’t pretend I don’t wonder. A lot. The promises of God never change. When evil knocks right on your front door? When he kicks it down and smashes all that safety and warmth. When it sits next to you in a theater and robs a city of beautiful young souls. What do you believe?
Not my town. Not my town. Not my town. Isn’t that what lurks in the recesses of the mind when tragedy strikes? We experience sadness and even tearful sympathy when you see the bad thing unfolding miles away. And then in that dark place there’s a hint of relief. “But, it wasn’t in my town,” we say.
Until it is.
Sweet Lafayette, we are not the first. And we will not be the last. But, this place, it’s the place I call home and it feels big. It feels huge. The bad thing happened right here in our precious city where we take our kids downtown without thinking twice. Right here where every other person has ashes on their forehead on Wednesday in the spring. And where Mardi Gras is a family affair.
A year ago we were named the happiest city in the country. Today we are crying. Our hearts our breaking. Our souls are crushed.
Lafayette is not a small town, but it’s a special place. It’s a microcosm of culture and faith, of tradition and progressive thought. There is no place like Lafayette.
This place has long felt insulated to me. Even when we sit smack in the middle of that “cone of uncertainty” all too often during hurricane season. You know the one. They show it on the national news and your family out of state is repeatedly calling and texting … “You’re in THE CONE! COME NORTH NOW!” It feels a lot like the shooting has left us in a cone of uncertainty.
And I’m going to do the thing I do every year since I moved here in 2005 just months before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita arrived. I will refuse to be shaken. We will not be shaken.
I will be wise. I will be vigilant. But I will not live in fear.
I will go to the park. I will shop. I will go to that Mardi Gras parade. I will even go to the movies. I’ll hold Wilder tighter. I’ll remember that much of what is paralyzing me with fear or angers me beyond reason is pretty petty and fleeting in the light of what matters most. And that what happened on Johnston Street is the sort of thing that really should send my blood boiling. I will love with more intention and less reservation. Something I should have been doing anyway. And I’ll be thankful.
And we will not stop living.
Lafayette is not like other places. This is something the world will see when they peek into our windows even in the midst of tragedy. Tragedy has visited here before. And we didn’t let it stay. It’s been evicted time and time again. This will be no different.
Lafayette has a beautiful resilience. A way of turning what is ugly into something beautiful. Of showing the world that we are a community in the ways that matter most even when we are as different as a person can imagine.
The coming days will be living proof that our big hearts make us less vulnerable not more. Because we will not be shaken.
I have never liked being labeled “the happiest city in America” nor do I subscribe to the idea that we should all just do what makes us happy. For what I want and for what Lafayette is, happiness feels too fleeting a concept. Happiness feels like something that changes as quickly as our weather. Happiness feels like something that can’t survive July 23.
Lafayette has far too many storms to stand up to the flimsy banner of happy. Instead I find this city to be a joyful one. A deep, abiding joy that lives under the surface of beads and boiled crawfish and plate lunches and properly cooked gumbo.
There is a unique substance that makes up our city and it cannot be marred or diminished by the hand of one man. We may see sorrow, but we will not be shaken. Our hearts may be breaking, but we will not be broken.
So, what do we do when the bad thing happens? We do the things that bring us joy with more purpose. We live each day on purpose. We never forget. We celebrate and we mourn and we love, love, love on the memory of these beautiful women — Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson — and we form our own little Lafayette army of comfort around those closest to the victims.
We choose faith instead of fear. We keep living and keep loving with a new sense of intensity. We will be scarred, forever changed and we will be stronger for it rather than weaker. We stay what we were before July 23 and what we will be long after the national news forgets our name again
— Lafayette strong.