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  • Heather Marchek-Lopez

Heather's Response to The Tree of Life Tragedy

I was a shy freshman at the University of Pittsburgh when I joined Best Buddies, an international service organization that matches a college student with a person with a developmental or intellectual disability. It didn't take long to fall in love with the people who were involved with the Pitt Chapter and their mission, and to this day, I spend time with my Buddy, Lynn, at least every few months.

Best Buddies has a huge presence in Pittsburgh, both at Pitt and in the surrounding universities, and so I met countless wonderful people at the chapter socials and the community events. The organization attracts the kindest, most empathetic, most humble souls, and among the many I came to know was Cecil Rosenthal. Strikingly tall and always early, Cecil would enter the room eager to make conversation with the first person he saw. We greeted each other at every social, even danced once or twice together. I didn't know him well, but I remember him the one to get the party started and a bright light in the room.

It is sad to say, but I have a routine when I find out about a recent shooting. I skim over several different national news articles - CBS, NBC, CNN, and then I check Facebook for the first one I can find to post a list of the victims. I always want to see their faces and names - maybe my own quiet way of paying respect as soon as possible. I also scan my feed looking at what other people have found out or how they are reacting, or, God forbid, if they were affected somehow.

When I saw the faces of Saturday's shooting, I recognized Cecil immediately. It's been over 10 years since I've last seen him, but I knew, and my memories of Best Buddies holiday parties, bowling events, and balls, which Cecil never missed, came trickling back. And from that moment to this moment - as I write this - I feel just so... sad. It's not sophisticated or complicated, or even original, but sadness is exactly what I feel this week. Sadness for the person Cecil was, for all of the other victims who woke up that morning anticipating their day, for their friends and families, for the city of Pittsburgh, for children across the country who feel a little more scared to be out in their communities, for anyone else who has been touched by a senseless killing like this.

This happened the day after my husband was sworn in as an American citizen, and the first thing I thought was how he is yet another owner of stories like this. Stories that pop up from Parkland, Charlottesville, Las Vegas, Orlando - all of these corners of the nation that has just embraced him. As citizens, we are all owners of these tragedies. These tragic stories and the ones yet to be written belong to us because we are all part of the same national fabric.

But we own the good stories, too. We own the ways that communities come together, and even become stronger, in tragedies like this, and though we suffer through them, we own the possibility that even one person looks at a stranger or his or her own life with a new, more positive perspective. We also own organizations like Best Buddies, which gave so many people the opportunity to know Cecil in the first place. And that, I guess, is where hope lies - that we keep creating and keep searching for these good stories to own.

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