Dark Night Rising
Last night, there was a tragic shooting at the premiere of the new Batman film in Aurora. Aurora is halfway between Denver and Boulder; it’s at minimum a 20-minute drive from my home, and that’s assuming I’m speeding and not hitting any traffic. I have no friends or family who currently live in Aurora that would’ve been at that theater, and I was home asleep during the entire thing.
Still, I’m getting emails and messages expressing concern from distant lands where the geography isn’t as obvious. It’s appreciated and bewildering. And I’m unsure if or how I will be discussing or talking about this event at camp today with kids who haven’t experienced a massacre like this before.
But these are all secondary and tertiary concerns.
I remember walking into my home in Boston, wandering upstairs and flipping on MTV. At the time, MTV still played videos, though even then it was dwindling to a minimum. Scrolling along the bottom was a smallish news ticker with reports of a school shooting in Littleton, Colorado.
After a moment of shock, I flipped to CNN to follow the news. My grandparents lived in Littleton; my aunt, uncle and cousins (the latter in the midst of their freshman year of high school) lived the not far from there. I sat there, slack-jawed, letting the media storm roll over me.
I called my parents to check in, asking for my aunt and uncle’s phone number.
I was assured with moderate indifference that my cousins were fine, that my family was fine. And though this brought about relief in me and distanced me from Columbine itself, it also aroused a mild confusion. Why was my family so calm and collected? Why weren’t they freaking out?
Before high school, so many little details eluded me: my cousins lived one town over in Evergreen; they went to private school; they knew people at Columbine but didn’t attend. But to me, having family in the area gave Columbine an immediate resonance.
I don’t remember the conversations or the next few days, not because of shock or awe, but because the importance of Columbine as a personal event faded as soon as those I cared about were deemed safe in my mind. Columbine became a clinical examination of morality, media, and the many ways in which American society marginalizes youth, overreacts to minor issues, and encourages this selfsame behavior in the next generation.
Perhaps I’m lucky not to be directly affected by the inexplicable act visited upon those movie-goers. Already, both President Barack Obama and hopeful Mitt Romney have issues official statements over 14 dead and 50 injured (at the time of this writing). Despite my proximity, the theater is one in 104,185 square miles of Colorado. It sits 35.6 miles away from house according to Google’s directions. There are 5,116,796 people living in Colorado according to the 2011 US census, and the two rooms at the theater could house approximately 150-300 people.
It’s not my intent to belittle what happened, nor really to put it in perspective. The act resonates and reverberates through friends, family and others. It creates fear and trepidation among movie goers, encouraging paranoia and bewilderment until we get an explanation. And that explanation can’t ever be good enough.
As I respond to messages and calls, assuring people I’m fine, that I was nowhere near that theater, I will try hard to be appreciative of their concern. I will watch my voice and my words for indifference and exasperation. And mostly, I will remind myself that it’s good to be loved and cared for.
I only hope that when the bodies to fade back into faceless genericness, our empathy does not fade with it.
The second greatest tragedy of the Columbine shooting was the desensitization of America.