Lessons from Las Vegas, Part One

The Call                                                                    

On October 5, four days after the shooting in Las Vegas, I received a message from my inner voice. I was actually dozing, then startled awake to hear,

“Go to Las Vegas!”

I wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea. I was taking a bubble bath at the time. “What? Who, me? Why?”

The answer was relentless and simple. “Go to Las Vegas.”

“Why?” I asked again. The answers I got didn’t really relax me.

“You’ll know when you get there.”

“Don’t go alone, if you can help it.”

“You might be making a documentary with the video camera in your cell phone.”

“But I don’t have any money for the trip!” I protested.

“Just go to Vegas!” was the message I got repeatedly until I got out of the tub.

Because we are all so battle fatigued about public shootings in the last few years, you may have tried not to pay attention to the Las Vegas shooting. Or . . .  you may have had a hard time not taking your eyes off the images on TV. To catch you up briefly:

On the night of October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Hotel/Casino on a crowd of 22,000 concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in a field across the street from Mandalay Bay, leaving 58 people dead and 546 injured. People had come from all over the U.S. as well as other countries to attend the concert.

Flying on a Wing and a Prayer 

I bought an airplane ticket for the following day and made a room reservation at the Luxor Hotel and Casino which is right next to Mandalay Bay. I charged it to my credit card, put up a quick fund raising request on Facebook, and made a couple of phone calls but no one had responded by the time I left for the airport with my friend “R”, who decided to come with me at the last minute. She didn’t have any money either so I also put her plane ticket on my credit card. I didn’t know how, but I had a feeling that we would both be taken care of for this trip.

The trip was a series of MIRACLES and synchronicities.

I notice miracles are starting to happen a lot lately when I listen to my inner voice and take action, often with no clue about what the outcome will be. I have listed a few of the miracles here, but there were so many that this article would be a book if I mentioned them all.

First Miracle                                                                                                               

On the way to the airport, I received a phone call from an angel donor who offered to pay $1,000 for our expenses. Phew! We didn’t have to worry about how we would pay for transportation, lodging and food.

When we got to the airport, there was a long line at security. We were invited to sign up for TSA Pre which lets you skip the long wait and go more directly through security. The sign-in requires having your driver’s license read by a machine. R’s went through easily, but after numerous attempts by the agent, mine would not. Meanwhile, my friend and I talked to the agent  about our self-directed mission to listen to people in Las Vegas and see what we could do to help with the situation. Our agent was excited about what we were doing and made an executive decision to push us through security even though my application was incomplete.

I suddenly felt an excruciating pain in my chest and collapsed into a nearby wheelchair which the airport provides for disabled people. Since I was temporarily disabled, we were allowed to use it and R rolled me through security but now we were really late. She heroically took off, pushing me and  RUNNING us to our gate. My mysterious pain subsided as we arrived at the gate a couple minutes after boarding time was officially over and the agents were closing up the ticket counter.

Second Miracle                                                                                                    

We were told that we could not get on the plane, even though there was room and it was not due to take off for another 25 minutes. In fact, we could not make any changes to the conditions of our flight since we had “cheap” tickets. So, even if we were on the plane, we would not be able to sit together, etc. R has an amazing ability to not take “no” for an answer when the situation calls for it. She repeatedly brought up practical solutions to the problem, until a supervisor showed up and said, “Oh, just let them get on the plane!” We thanked everybody and hurried down the ramp.

Third Miracle

When we got to my row, the people who originally had the two other seats in the row had (mysteriously) been upgraded to first class, so my friend was able to join me there and we even had an extra seat!

Arriving in Las Vegas

We had an uneventful short flight and headed for our hotel. As we got out of the airport shuttle  and began walking to our hotel, we noticed that all through the city, giant electronic billboards sponsored by a group called Vegas Strong were broadcasting messages of hope and assistance.

We stopped at a restaurant in a casino to get some lunch and when our waitress heard why we were in Las Vegas, she immediately volunteered her story. She wasn’t working the day of the shooting and no one she knew had been shot. She said it hadn’t really affected her but she cried the next day, and for days afterward, when she listened to the radio on her way to work and heard people calling in to the station to share their stories of loss and community support.

We found out there was LOTS of community support. Here are a few things we became aware of:

  • Restaurants donated free food for first responders (police, firefighters, EMTs etc.) and local people directly affected by the shooting.
  • Car detailing businesses donated their services to remove blood and clean taxis, shuttles and Uber/Lyft cars that had carried injured people away from the concert area.
  • Blood banks received an overwhelming response from people wanting to donate blood — so much that people had to be turned away.
  • There was a focused effort through billboards and other outreach media to encourage people to get help and not be isolated with their physical or emotional pain.
  • Free counseling was made available to help people with the trauma of the event.
  • Churches mobilized to provide food, provide transportation for out-of-towners who missed their flights home, work with blood banks, visit people in the hospital, and provide counseling and prayer support.
  • Mercy Mericopa activated a crisis support line (1-800-203-CARE (2273) and broadcast information on how to deal with trauma.  https://www.mercymaricopa.org/lasvegas-shooting.

Listening on the Spot

Everywhere we went, from the check-in desk at the hotel onward, as soon as we said something simple like, “We’re here to help,” people jumped in (when they saw we had attention for them) and told us their stories. Retail clerks, hotel customers, the manager at the buffet where we had dinner . . . people melted and poured out their stories and feelings. As they told us what happened, many of them released emotional pain as they cried with grief, shook with fear, yelled with anger, and laughed, releasing more fear.

My friend and I were so busy listening that we never turned on our phone cameras to record the stories. Also, most of the stories were too intimate for public broadcast. In a way, we made a documentary but at this point, it only exists in our heads and is not recorded. So, consider this an excerpt from Viva Las Vegas: Healing in Community.

As a team, R and I  listened to each other well, worked through minor conflicts efficiently, and in general, laughed a lot to keep each other in good shape to be able to listen to the  myriad of people we encountered.

Credit Where Credit is Due

I credit my years of practice with Co-Counseling (also known as Re-Evaluation Counseling)  for my ability to have good attention and listen well to people in Las Vegas and other stressful environments. I find this has great ripple effects:  when people are listened to non-judgmentally and compassionately, their own attention and capacity to deal with whatever is going on improves. You can find information about Co-Counseling and resources in your community at www.rc.org.

Miracles Upon Miracles

As I mentioned earlier, our trip was filled with unexpected miracles. The final one: R and I flew back to Denver International Airport where I needed to pick up a flight to the East Coast. We decided to have dinner together before I left and spent the time de-briefing and appreciating each other. When I looked at the time on my phone, I was running late! Also, my ankles were hurting. I was just starting to say, “We could use another wheelchair,” when a nearby elevator door opened, and a man walked toward me, pushing a wheelchair.

“Can you help me?” I asked. I waved good-bye to my friend as this airport employee literally RAN me to my gate, depositing me 10 minutes before the final call. How amazing (and strange) to begin and end my trip by being pushed in a wheelchair at top speed!

Thank you to everyone who sent prayers, money, and practical assistance for this trip!

P.S. Last week, I took a second trip to Las Vegas – to be continued in Part Two.