It was Friday, May 23rd, 2014. My first year in the States - I called it my golden year - I was enjoying my new life to the fullest, as a first year doctoral student at UCSB. Everything couldn’t be even more perfect in this beautiful central California.
That day, I spent the evening in the piano practice room composing my new piece, and went to Isla Vista for dinner. ‘Hmm, what should I have for dinner? Freebird? Habit?’
But somehow, I thought: well, let’s just go home and eat!
I biked home - only five minutes away from IV-, and heard fireworks.
‘OK. it’s Friday! Why not, it’s IV, full of parties!’
But it was not firework.
It was a gunshot.
It took me a long time to process what had just happened.
One friend of mine in the same graduate student apartment knocked my door, telling me what just happened. I didn’t understand. I wasn’t good at English back then, and even didn’t know what “shooting” means. Shooting? Isn’t it for sports?
Even after I learned the meaning of shooting - “gun” - I still didn’t understand: how come? How can someone own a gun and kill people with it here in the student town, right next to campus? “Gunshot” sounded just like “I saw a ghost today.”
A few hours later, I finally grasped what happened: six UCSB students were killed by gunshot that evening - the very street I parked my bike and thought ‘what should I eat?’ That’s where I passed every day to go to school, to go to meditation, and to go for meal. If I stayed…. I could have been one of the victims.
I couldn’t sleep at all. The next morning, I ran into the church nearby, to pray for others and pray with others. I’m not a Christian, but the church - where I meditate - provided a safe place for anyone. I read out a prayer with others in tears and shock. Then a few days later, I joined in the memorial as one of the spokepersons.
The IV gunshot drew the first-year-in-America, a new immigrant who even didn’t know what “shooting” meant, but who could have died in the IV that night, to step into this tragedy, more deeply than I thought. This tragedy also revealed to me, who completely fell in love with my new life in the States, in the beautiful central California where I called paradise, a lot of layers that I didn’t notice back then: beyond the gun control, there were hatred, misogyny, race issue, peer pressure in sexual intercourse, loneliness and isolation, and more.
One year passed.
The next year May 2015, I joined in the memorial concert for IV tragedy with a mourning piece for string quartet. However, the question did not go away: what is this all about? What did it mean? Can arts change the world more than remembrance? Yes, hopefully. Maybe not, to be honest. What can I do, what can music do, to make the world even a teaspoonful better?
The concert was over, but the questions and the musical theme have hovered over my head and in my heart for years.
Three years passed.
May 23rd 2018, the 4th anniversary of the IV tragedy, this theme was brought back to life with more active and hopeful answer: yes, arts can change the world, and this is what musicians can do: “Hope in Labyrinth.”
Heena Yoon, founder of Hope in Labyrinth