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Sarah Tomlinson

20th Anniversary Memorial

For twenty years, we were mostly silent. Hardly even speaking with each other about “the shooting” this black hole, which we moved away from in time, and yet, which we never really seemed to get further away from. Still shadowing our lives as it did with the fact that one of our own had hated us, enough to want us dead, and had succeeded in taking two of our most beloved from us, while those who had been charged with protecting us had failed to keep us safe.

Having survived this, we knew truths that others did not know. About the world and people, and what they were and were not capable of, and this knowledge, which had come to us from violence and its perversions, created a perverted form of truth within us. Like a twisted version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, we were both the emperor who was naked, and the only one who could see our true state. Even those who were closest to us, our families, friends, lovers, wives, husbands, children, saw us as clothed, as whole, as normal. Or as normal as we could be, when we still had within us the ghosts of the misfit teens we had always been.

And yet, we knew the truth. We had been marked by tragedy. It had stripped us of defenses other people took for granted-their ignorant belief in some inherent logic in the world had been ripped from us. And it had left us particularly tender and vulnerable while trying to navigate our lives, now forever altered. We were ashamed of being different. And it was terrible to return to this state of shame, as many of us had been made to feel ashamed of our differences in the lives we had before we found Simon’s Rock, that wonderful but all-to-brief oasis of acceptance.

And so we kept quiet, even amongst ourselves, and tried to deny our nakedness, as well as the ridiculous farce of pretending we had clothes. Most of us had never really been joiners to begin with. And so maybe this was our natural state, this isolation, especially in our grief, and our increasing certainty as time passed, that in some profound way the grief would never go away. It was a part of Galen now, of the shooting, of Simon’s Rock. And these were all things too woven into our emotional DNA to let go of, no matter the cost of hanging onto them.

When I finally broke my silence by publishing an essay about the shooting, it was only after the piece, which I had written and performed for maybe a dozen people in Los Angeles, had sat on my computer for two-and-a-half-years. I was only driven to share it then by one more tragedy. And by the resulting bafflement expressed around me in a variety of social situations. Those who had previously seemed like relatively intelligent adults suddenly seemed like small children trying to understand where the people in the TV had gone when it was switched off. I found myself impatient with their na├»ve ignorance, having finally accepted years ago that you can’t force answers onto a tragedy because senselessness is at its core.

The essay went out into the world and what resulted was its own form of answer, though–a gift so profound and surprising I could hardly stand to receive it. All of you were returned to me, and with you, Simon’s Rock, which had been lost to me in my grief. You contacted me with such beautiful, humble, troubled, grateful correspondence. You dared to wrestle with your own pain and guilt and shame within my sight. Even though you had not seen me in nearly twenty years, even though I was essentially a stranger to you. This simple communion reminded me how exceptional all of you are. Because in some profound way you are seekers. It’s what brought you to forego the traditional path and find your way to Simon’s Rock–where Galen and Nacunan, also seekers, were drawn as well.

I had forgotten about this quality of being exceptional, because it had made the ensuing
loss all that more profound. I’m sure, like me, you have found it incredibly difficult to come back over and over again during these twenty years to the fact that there wasn’t just the grief that came out of the violence of the shooting. There was the unalterable fact that Galen Gibson was a truly exceptional person, even with and particularly because of the things within him that were sometimes difficult. And that we all are, and have always been aware, of how exceptional he was. And it has always added to the pain of losing him, and to our shame at remaining behind in what we see as our naked, unexceptional states.

And yet, it is also that which must finally be our consolation, because it is all we are left with–it truly was a gift to have this exceptional person in our midst for far too brief a time. And because, maybe in that time, he found something exceptional within us too, because we were his people, and I know how happy he was amongst us for the time we did have together. Of course we lost sight of this, because our sudden loss of him has only spotlighted how special he was, and will continue to be so, for as long as the rest of us are here to remember.

We found each other–Galen found us–for a reason. I suppose it is up to all of us to decide for ourselves what that reason was. But I am extremely comforted to finally have our loss spoken out loud, and to feel all of you here with me, at the place of the wound, which of course is also the place of the healing.

Of all the messages I received in the aftermath of my essay, there was one that meant the most to me. When I saw it in my inbox, two days after my piece was published, I immediately burst into tears before I had read a single word. So great was my sorrow and guilt to be sitting there in my bungalow in Los Angeles, writing, living, when Galen was not alive to do what he was meant to do, and instead his father, bearer of that loss, was reaching out to me.

During the course of my correspondence with Mr. Gibson, I apologized for not having been able to read Goneboy because it had always upset me too much. He wrote a reply that was exactly what I needed to hear; had needed without realizing it for these twenty years. I wanted to share it today because I know he meant it for all of us equally. He wrote of Goneboy: “Oh, don’t worry about reading it or not reading it. Ever. It’s just out there doing its work now. You get busy with yours!”

So I have, and so I will. These twenty years have gone by all too fast. There’s a lot I want to accomplish. Not just for myself, but for all of you, for Simon’s Rock, and of course, for that exceptional young man we carry with us forever in our hearts.