When I was seven my mom moved my sisters and me from Long Island to Las Vegas. Back then it seemed like a normal town but with a little bit more sparkle and a theme song sung by Elvis.
Las Vegas is often misunderstood but don't be fooled by the rumors. There are houses and friendly faces, schools and baseball games. Summers are hell and seem to last all year long. But the short winters in-between summers are blissfully cooler, filled with sweaters and hot chocolate and the foolish hope that maybe it will snow. Blue skies are taken for granted. Rainy days are coveted. We are battle born and damn proud of it. We know home means Nevada even if we can't point out the Truckee with its silvery rills on a map.
It wasn't until I grew older that I realized the stigmas associated with living in Las Vegas. Over the years I've stopped counting the number of times I've been asked if I live in a hotel. Every time "Vegas baby" is uttered I block it out. I've learned to embrace the way people view my city as their own and to look past being asked how I can live in such a sinful place, because I know better. I know the real heartbeat of my hometown. I've always been proud to be a Vegas local even with all the baggage that comes along with it.
This week that pride swelled when unspeakable tragedy hit my hometown. Before our heroic first responders had finished working tirelessly to save as many lives as possible, locals were lined up at two in the morning ready to give blood. Others rushed to their side providing food and drinks. Money poured in for the brave survivors and the families of the fallen. Locals gave displaced and desperate souls shelter, food, and a ride to wherever they needed to go. One selfless act took place after another.
Vegas pulled together as the strong community we always have been and always will be. And we didn't stop there. We were there for our kids, our families, our neighbors, and every out-of-towner who makes this city their home away from home.
I am sad beyond measure over what has happened to my city. I am heartsick and broken over the lives taken and forever changed. I am devastated by the fear my kids now live with. The pain they feel over the destruction to their town, their friends, their schools, their community, their country by one horribly sick and twisted individual and his grotesque plan is suffocating.
I refuse to learn the name of the psychopath who did this to my town. I don't care what his motives were. I don't care what he did the days running up to the nightmare he inflicted. Slap any name on him that you'd like: terrorist, radical, lone wolf, demented, deranged. Go. For. It. To me he will always be pure evil, unworthy of a title. He is beneath us. He does not deserve one speck of our time.
What I cling to is the heart and soul of my generous hometown. A town that came together and gave too much. A town that refused to leave the broken and the wounded behind. A town that showed up and continues to show up day in and day out. A town that woke up to find their world forever changed but fought back harder. A town that refuses to give in or let up.
Monday morning we hugged our kids and sent them to school. We got in endlessly long lines and gave blood. We went to work and kept things going. We gave money and visited hospitals. We donated food and water and gave rides to the displaced and hurting. And we continue to reach out to those in need when our need is great and our hearts are broken.
We are strong. We are brave. We are more than ads and clichés. We will move forward and this evil will not define us. Our hearts will. Our strength will. Our love for our community and every single person who adopts this amazing town as their own will.
This week more than ever I am a proud Las Vegan. What happens here is kindness, generosity, caring, and hope in the face of insanity. It's my prayer that strength will seep into our nation as we are faced with difficult choices. That this fortitude will not be left here. Instead I pray we as a nation can stare this horrifying new reality in the face and tell it to go to hell where it belongs.
Reach out to one another, my friends. Stop shouting. Stop dogmatically protecting your beliefs. Take a moment right now to simply love your neighbor, protect your neighbor, respect your neighbor no matter how different from you they may be. And maybe, just maybe, we can keep our children safer. Maybe, just maybe, we can take the momentum this wonderful community I call home has started and spread it wider, have it weave across this divided country of ours.
This love, this outpouring of kindness and sacrifice for our neighbors and community and strangers doesn't have to stay here in Vegas. It can be taken home. It should be taken home and shared—not left behind.
Looking for a way to donate? Check out the Go Fund Me page for financial support of victims, survivors, and their families.
Don't have cash to give? How about blood? Schedule an appointment today to give.
Want to send a note to the city of Las Vegas? Send your heart to this address here.
Hurting and confused? Me too. Please reach out to your loved ones. Seek out a professional if your fears and feelings are understandably overwhelming you. And if you feel this is all too much and this world is just too dark and hopeless to keep going, please know you are important and loved and we are stronger and better than this one act of evil. Call Lifeline now and speak to a healthcare professional.
We will get through this.
We will overcome together.