One week ago to the day, 14-year old Todd Brown was murdered by a classmate in the hallway of Discovery Middle School in Madison, Alabama. Yesterday at 1:30 in the afternoon, he was laid to rest and his family, classmates, and community continued the long road towards healing. Less than three hours later, three people were murdered on the campus of the University of Alabama-Huntsville and three others were wounded.
It's madness. It's tragic madness, and it's all getting a little too close to home. I have a niece and nephew who attend middle school in Madison. My wife and her twin sister attend and work at UAH.
It's difficult not to overreact but this doesn't feel like my hometown anymore. I've lived in this area for most of the past 19 years and this isn't us. We're The Rocket City, home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. We're Huntsville, an unassuming city stuck between Birmingham and Nashville. We don't lead the news on CNN. We're neither seen nor heard. Things like this don't happen here.
Except that they do and when they do we're forced to confront realities we'd just as soon avoid: the beautiful and terrifying contradictions in life's fragility and its powerful determination as well as a continuum based on our individual impermanence. Everything feels different for a few moments and we tell ourselves nothing will ever be the same and yet, for most of us, life is hardly distinguishable before and after these profound events. I don't feel guilt for the gratitude I feel that my loved ones weren't harmed in these tragic events, but my joy is tempered by the sorrow and outrage the senseless acts of this past week have provoked.
License plates in Alabama used to have the slogan, "Stars Fell on Alabama," a reference in part to Huntsville's proud legacy and role in America's space program. Those stars have been replaced by tears tonight, so soon after the tragedy of last week.
Tears are falling in Huntsville again tonight and they'll continue to fall. We'll search for meaning in them. Some will search for scapegoats. Lives were ended, altered, ruined. We'll rage and despair and we'll mourn and we'll wonder why, and the tears will continue to fall.