How Coping With Death Can Breathe Purpose Into Your Life

Cynthia Hass

Of seven bullets fired, three made their way through his skull. It was the first time I'd ever witnessed a shooting.

I was in second grade, and I remember lying down in my pink Barbie sheets, hearing a young man sob and an older man yell in the distance. Luckily, I was inside.

It was about two in the morning, and I was woken out of my sleep to a light flashing through my window -- it was my neighbors. At the time, I knew gangs better than I knew algebra, but I didn’t know whether the shattered glass I just heard came from shots fired or celebratory shouts.

They partied a lot, but something about the shrieks that followed told me tonight wasn’t like the other nights. Tonight, I wouldn’t forget.

A group of my neighbors were hanging out, riding bikes and soaking in the night's breeze. As they rode down our street, they encountered a man in a car who seemed to be taunting them in some way. He followed them for a good block before the boys started to notice and got a little suspicious.

The boys swerved around on their bikes in an attempt to lose the driver, but he persisted. He followed the boys for another block, and they knew something just wasn’t right. Shortly after, the driver held up what seemed to be a gun.

Terrified, one of the boys took the lead and distracted the driver while the others found shelter in my neighbor's garage. The bullets began, but before they could, the boy who took the lead attempted to stop the driver by throwing a bottle at his windshield, hoping it would shatter.

Hearts were all that shattered that night, and the man in the car fired as the boy ran to every house seeking refuge.

I don’t remember hearing him bang on my door, but when I awoke the next day, there were three bullet shells found outside my fence. Two shells were at my neighbor's home and several down the street where his body was.

He didn’t make it. The police came by the next morning to gather as much information as they could. My parents and siblings heard nothing. At the time, it was procedure not to tell. Everyone who lives in these streets knows not to say a word; to keep your family safe, you keep your doors closed and your mouth shut.

I sat by the window and watched the ambulance carry him away. I sat and watched his brother come back to where flowers were now being placed. I watched him sob for days.

For weeks, I stayed quiet. For months, we weren't allowed to go near the site. For years, we prayed we wouldn't see anything like that again.

At 21, I've probably seen more shootings in a week than an average person witnesses in a lifetime.

This statement isn’t to appall you, terrify you or even surprise you. It’s to remind you we all lead very different lives. The things you've seen, the people you've met and the places you've been are all leading you to this wonderful thing called purpose.

Having traveled quite a bit for the work I do, there are points where my past makes no sense. Sometimes, I'm asked about my upbringing, only to find myself absolutely confused.

I grew up with the most loving family and had the most incredible childhood, but some of the things I experienced growing up somehow don't equate to the life I've been blessed to live.

Sometimes, it's as though in order to attain a certain level of success, there must be a check box of your past, where "perfection" is the only option.

The visions you have for yourself cannot fit into this box, so put aside all the thoughts you think prohibit you, and realize your past has been the process to which your visions will manifest.

That heartbreak, that hurt and that harm have given you the reigns to create all you aspire to be and do.

Your past is not to be feared, shamed or shunned.

Although, when you're experiencing it, it may not make sense, looking back, it'll make perfect sense. Regardless of where you’ve come from, this moment is exactly where you are supposed to be.

In this moment, I have an absolute fire for serving people by telling their stories. I'm realizing that much of this fire I’ve built deep down inside of me has come from the times I couldn’t tell my own story, and the times I thought I couldn't speak about what was going on around me. But, now, I know it is my calling to tell.

It's my duty to allow the past to push me because within it, lies great pursuits.

The shots fired that night gave me wind; they gave me fire. They gave me purpose.