There are no words to express the fear, horror, and grief our Colorado community has experienced over the last 36 hours. Believe me. I've tried.
Others are writing about what happened - the media, bloggers, social media aficionados. I don't know what I can contribute or if I should. Normally, when something of this magnitude occurs and I know it's been widely covered, I don't bother. I mean, who wants to read one more piece about an event saturating every outlet?
Except this one - the country's largest mass shooting in history - hit too close to home, literally, for me to ignore.
The Century 16 cinema in Aurora is 15 minutes from my house. Back in the day, when I actually enjoyed the mainstream theater experience, I used to go to movies there a lot. I'm hard pressed to see any films produced for maximum mass appeal on the big screen nowadays (rude moviegoers and high prices have ruined the experience one too many times for me) and prefer to spend my movie time in the Landmark theaters at which they show independent, limited release, and foreign films as well as a slew of documentaries. The kind of movies not highly attended by thoughtless people or children and the kind of movies with content usually worth every penny. Regardless, I know that theater well. I know Aurora well. It's part of my home.
The first text message came in at 1:30 a.m. waking me up. I didn't comprehend, at first, what was happening. Then, at 1:38 a.m., the first of many e-mails started flooding my inbox with information coming, at first, from friends who monitor emergency radio frequencies for fun. This wasn't fun. This felt like Columbine all over again.
I sat drinking coffee, mutely staring at my computer, worrying about the 3 friends I knew who'd intended to go to the premier of The Dark Knight Rises and wondering how many more had gone without announcing it, reading message after message, news report after news report, as most of the rest of the country slept. Then, as one by one, friends woke up and plugged in, the sound off requests, the expressions of sadness and concern began on various social media sites. I watched and waited anxiously, grateful as each person checked in, feeling as though I was underwater...all of the world slowed down, sluggish, slightly out-of-focus.
Just as it felt during the Columbine massacre on April 20th, 1999.
And yet, different too. Dare I say worse?
Because even though Columbine was horrifying - the images of teenagers running from the school, crying, hugging, panicked, terrified as SWAT moved in have never left me - and the tear in the fabric of a community inviting the worst kind of fear and grief to blanket an entire city created by two desperately sick boys continues to resonate throughout the greater Denver metro area, most of us in the community didn't know any of the students or faculty.
The tragic event that took place just after midnight on July 20th, 2012...anyone could have been in that theater. I have dozens of friends, colleagues, former co-workers, and acquaintances who live near and frequent that theater on a regular basis. Many of my friends are comic geeks and ginormous fans of this genre of film...fans of this particular franchise.
And then there is the scope. 12 dead. 58 injured...many critically.
There is the booby trapped apartment. Bombs waiting to be triggered by an unsuspecting, innocent person. Bombs that could have taken out 14 apartments in one fell swoop. Perhaps more. Friends who live just two blocks away who voluntarily evacuated themselves when they received word long before the media caught wind of the plan to conduct a controlled detonation.
Going to work yesterday, dazed, confused, the heartache and dry, burning eyes of tears I couldn't yet cry, listening to my colleagues' news reports on NPR, I knew there would be no escape or distraction from the flood of information and speculation. The building was a hive of subdued, saddened chaos as we all tried to get our work done, the news room especially chaotic, and still check in with one another. Voices choked, quietly giving reports on family and friends.
As I sat at my desk, getting a brief respite from an insanely busy schedule, I thought about how often I've sat in a darkened theater, munching on popcorn, happily suspending disbelief, so consumed by what I was watching on the screen before me that I wouldn't be able to remember if a stranger sat next to me let alone identify them in a line up. How difficult to have something so surreal and awful unfold in front of you, your life in danger, just generally. But to already be in a hypnotized state of being, watching the action onscreen and then suddenly it is offscreen, multi-dimensional, real and seemingly unreal. How slow would I be to react?
As I drove home, I realized...we are not safe in this world. I am not safe in this world. No one is safe. Tragedy strikes every single day. Car accidents and random shootings in malls, schools, movie theaters, churches, post offices, fast food restaurants. Domestic violence assaults, rape, arson, natural disasters. Just in the last two weeks, a co-worker's daughter-in-law's father was brutally beaten to death in a Littleton street. A dear friend of my mother lost her daughter, 38, to suspected suicide. So much sadness. So much tragedy. Every single day. No one is safe.
But we don't grieve as a community for these one offs. We read about or hear about the stories, if they're even reported, and think, "oh that's too bad" and we go about our business as usual. Until a massive tragedy with many casualties - of person and/or property...like the Waldo Canyon fire and Columbine, 9/11 and the Aurora shooting...happens and then there is an outpouring of distress and, some think, an irrational panic that someone we know might have been hurt or killed.
I don't know.
Maybe it's because there were so many in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe because we have to operate under the guise that we are safe in order to function and when we're confronted with the reality of just how tenuous the world in which we live is by a situation in which lots of us could have easily been in at any given time, it's like being doused under a waterfall of icy cold water. Maybe it's because we can't possibly grieve for everyone all the time. Maybe it's because it's much easier to believe "that could never happen to me" when it's just one person or one car or one relationship. Maybe it's because events like this keep a nation's attention riveted on it as they can't help but rubber neck our train wreck.
And they'll make it about the movies, they'll make it about wearing black, they'll make it about listening to the "wrong" kind of music, about reading comic books, about being against gawd, about guns, about all the things it's not about. It's about one thing...a sick man, a twisted, warped, brilliant man who killed a bunch of people. The why doesn't matter.
Whatever the case, the metro area is grieving...again. Many, if not most, who live here are within 2 degrees of separation from someone who was either a victim or a loved one of a victim of this vicious, senseless act.
If you're reading this, you are two degrees of separation away from this vicious, senseless act.
Acr0nym's coworker is numbered among the dead.
And no one is safe.
But I shall be unafraid and I will take my chances every day...in the car, in relationships, in the grocery store, the post office, the theater, the convention hall. There is no alternative...except death. And really, no one escapes death whether they lock themselves up in their homes, afraid to live, or not.
PS I wrote a post On Tragedy back in January 2011 to mark the 25th anniverary of the Challenger explosion. It's pretty good. And I think it's relevant to this too.