I had heard about the anti-gun violence rally earlier in the week. But as the Saturday approached, the weather forecast was ominous. The app on my phone said 100% chance of rain. Even taking into account the unreliability of weather apps, precipitation seemed inevitable. Would I attend the rally, even in the pouring rain, I wondered?
Then I read the letter-to-the-editor in The Capitalnewspaper.
Entitled, “Our mother would have been with students rallying against gun violence in Annapolis,” it was signed by Wendi Winters’ four children: Winters, Phoenix, Montana and Summerleigh.
“Our mother, Wendi Winters, would have supported the demonstration organized by students from St. Mary’s County calling for reforming gun laws being held Saturday in Annapolis,” the letter began. “Either she would have covered it, or shown up in solidarity. Instead, she was murdered by a coward on June 28 along with four other of your colleagues.”
Wendi Winters was murdered that horrible Thursday afternoon along with Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, and Rebecca Smith. Those who survived that horrific Capitalattack credited Wendi with saving the lives of several of her colleagues by rushing the gunman as he opened fire. Who among us would have been able to demonstrate that type of courage and bravery if similarly confronted?
In my mind, I owed it to Wendi, Rob, John, Gerald, and Rebecca to attend that Saturday rally, which was organized by Students For A Safer Maryland. So, my wife Christine, our 10-year-old twins and I piled into our family SUV, drove downtown, parked in a nearby garage, and walked the short distance to Lawyer’s Mall, nestled between the State House and the governor’s mansion. It wasn’t just raining; it was a deluge. Despite the torrential rain, a hearty group of young people and adults gathered under a sea of colorful umbrellas.
Almost immediately, I was grateful I came. I spotted Rachael Pacella, whom I’d first met when she was a reporter for the Towson Times, before she’d moved to The Capital. She had been injured in the June 28 rampage, and in the weeks since, had written with great emotion and passion about it. I hadn’t spoken with her since that fateful day, and seeing her at the rally brought a great sense of relief mixed with sadness. We hugged, and I clumsily fumbled for the right words to say to her.
A few minutes later, the first of several speakers began shouting into a megaphone. Among them was a young woman wearing a white summer dress and sandals. She introduced herself as Selene San Felice. I knew her byline. Like Rachael, Selene was a Capital newsroom survivor.
“I know a lot of you have felt loss and grief in your lives,” Selene said to the rapt audience. “I want you to try grieving for five different people at once. Try doing that when the last memory you have of them is their violent deaths.”
I tried to imagine what Selene was thinking and feeling at that very moment. I couldn’t. I couldn’t even pretend to.
About 45 minutes later the rally concluded, and the attendees slowly drifted away to resume the rest of their weekend.
As I write this, more than a month has elapsed since I watched with an overwhelming sense of dread as dozens of emergency vehicles rushed past my neighborhood along Bestgate Road, responding to a report of an active shooter at the offices of The Capitalnewspaper. Like so many others, I have struggled to put this senseless tragedy behind me, not only because it impacted my community, but because I, too, was once a journalist at a community newspaper. I feel a bond with the victims and survivors.
I told a friend recently, “I’ve always ascribed to the theory of wondering what people would say about you when you died. So, live your life in such a way that you’d like what you heard” (realizing the fallacy of that line of thinking, of course).
I’ve thought about that theory a lot over the past three weeks.
Over dinner at Galway Bay recently with a friend who is a Capitalalum, we talked about finding the silver linings.
“What possible good can we find from this horrible incident and five deaths?” we asked each other through tears.
I’ve learned, from reading about Wendi and her four colleagues over the past several weeks, that my silver linings are about passion and purpose. About being your true, authentic self. About gratitude and taking nothing for granted. About caring and giving. About following your dreams, even when they seem scary. (Especially when they seem scary!) About stepping outside your comfort zone. About living your life to the fullest, not merely existing.
Sadly, I never knew Wendi Winters, but I believe she would have been standing beside me at that Saturday anti-gun violence rally, getting soaked to the skin, cheering loudly for the students, hugging survivors, and vowing to take action to help prevent another mass shooting.
“Either she would have covered it,” her children had written days before, “or shown up in solidarity.”
We can all learn something from the way Wendi lived her life.