I took the picture above early in the morning of July 3rd, 2022 while biking across Texas to get back to my home in Alabama. As you can see, some of the flowers are starting to wilt. It had rained the night before and was about to start raining again. I could not speak without sobbing so I said nothing. Then I biked on … and a few hundred miles and a couple days later made it to Santa Fe, Texas where I took the picture at the end of this post late in the morning on July 5th, 2022.
You should recognize both those city names. Both cities had mass school shootings — Robb Elementary School, Uvalde in 2022 and Santa Fe High School, Santa Fe in 2018.
While planning to race the Tour Divide this year, I was trying to figure out how I could get home from the finish in New Mexico. Why not just ride home … across Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi … in July? This was the tentative plan I had in place by the time the spring semester wrapped up at Samford University. Fast forward a couple weeks and on May 24th, 2022, an 18 year old kid decided to use an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle to kill 19 students and 2 teachers at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
So I pretty much decided right then and there that I would alter my route to swing through Uvalde on the way home after the race and dedicate my ride to the victims, the families of the victims, and the entire town of Uvalde.
Santa Fe, Texas? Well, on my second day riding home leaving New Mexico, I was listening to music and somehow an Eminem song “Darkness” started playing. This song came out in January 2020 and is based on the Las Vegas mass shooting. After the shooter kills himself, the song breaks into an epilogue of sorts that has a series of overlapping news stories recounting mass shootings across the country one right after each other and on top of each other. The first shooting recounted was the Santa Fe, Texas school shooting.
I, like the vast majority of Americans not directly impacted by the shooting, had forgotten about the Santa Fe High School shooting. What caught my ear was the news reporter saying “Santa Fe, Texas just outside Houston”. Well, Houston was already on my route home, so I knew right then and there even before making it to Uvalde that I would alter my route again to make sure I rode through Santa Fe, Texas as well.
What difference does it make?
I still don’t have answers to either of those questions, but I knew it was something that I had to do. So I did.
So now what? I’m not sure, but we can’t just stick our heads in the sand and wait until we forget about Uvalde, too. Because that is one thing that this ride has done for me. I will never forget Uvalde or Santa Fe. But the vast majority of people will forget about Uvalde because there will be more mass shootings that make us forget about the previous mass shootings. Even the people of Uvalde will heal and move on with their lives, but of course they aren’t going to forget. They are going to have a horrible ache in their hearts for the rest of their lives that hopefully heals to whatever degree it can.
And one thing that could help that healing is to see real progress in addressing the problem of gun violence in the USA, to know that their wife or child didn’t die for nothing, that their child was an important piece in the puzzle that ultimately gets solved with common sense gun control laws as well as other measures that might help save other kids lives. Because that’s we all want, right? Or just like we do with cars and driving, is an acceptable number of deaths OK to preserve your right to get to wherever you want to get faster and faster? Nah, let’s not set reasonable speed limits. Let’s just make cars quieter and safer so you can drive even faster and more and more people can die. Let’s not restrict access to certain guns, let’s just add more safety officers and make sure our kids’ classroom doors and windows are bullet proof. Why can’t we do both? Or maybe we should work harder on the former so that the latter isn’t as necessary.
The impact of seeing the memorials in person was too great. Some of the flowers were starting to wilt, which for me timestamped the horrific murders as having been a few weeks earlier. To see the signs in Uvalde that says “Santa Fe stands with Uvalde” and a matching sign in Santa Fe next to The Unfillable Chair was too powerful. I will remember, and I will vote for candidates in all positions of power who will stand against gun violence and make it a point in their campaigns to stand against gun violence. What will you do?