I grew up in the shadow of the Columbine and Aurora shootings. How can I hold the horror of another Colorado massacre?
Yesterday, I went all day without looking at the news. And then just past 11, I learned that at least 10 people were dead in Boulder in my home state of Colorado, and I was all at once shaken and shattered and not surprised at all.
My generation of Colorado kids grew up with the shootings at Columbine High School programmed into our amygdalas. I was 1 and a half years old when 13 teenagers were shot dead by their peers at the school in Littleton, Colo., less than three miles from where I would start riding horses seven years later. You do not grow up with the knowledge that two children planned and executed the murder of their classmates in your city’s backyard without becoming psychologically changed.
My generation has never known a Colorado without the looming presence of a public firearm massacre. My generation has never known what it is to exist without the possibility of death by firearms at school, at the movies. It is not like you are sitting in social studies learning the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and constantly looking at the door. But this landscape of shootings is somehow part of you.
My generation of Colorado kids grew up with the shootings at Columbine High School programmed into our amygdalas.
Rachel’s Challenge—named for Rachel Scott, the first student killed at Columbine—comes to your school for an assembly on creating a safer classroom environment. Your middle-school friend tells you Rachel Scott’s ghost visited her bedroom. And pretty soon you’re in high school yourself, and your childhood friend from the barn will be shot by her classmate at Arapahoe High School 10 miles away. And you will pray for eight days straight that she will live, but she will die.
And kids still go to school there. I didn’t know what to think of that when I was a kid myself, but I felt the chill in my bones when I was driven past Columbine High School for the first and only time. I never need to see that place again. I am not sure I ever want to see Arapahoe High School again either.
But I see it everywhere. The headlines. They are unending. A murderous, bloodthirsty spirit haunts the daily news.
One might think that enough was enough, that a year as nearly unbearable as this past one would grant us a little blip in suffering, a little beach time away from the horror show.
My generation has never known what it is to exist without the possibility of death by firearms at school, at the movies.
I am getting pretty tired of saying How long, O Lord, so instead when I heard about the shootings in Boulder I just cried, texted some people to tell them I love them and started writing about how I cannot hold this and refuse to hold all of this.
I would like a guarantee that tomorrow I will wake up and nothing will add to the ache already so perpetually present. I would like a guarantee that legislators will work on passing effective gun control laws so that people are less able to murder each other. I would like a guarantee that people will feel and know the love that is deep within themselves, but I cannot even guarantee that for myself.
There isn’t one. There is no guarantee. There is only hope. There is only faith. There is only the shedding of barriers and illusions to make way for intimacy, for knowing who we really are, and then the outpouring of love that creates a new world.
I was 14 years old in Lithuania and eating cold borscht when I learned about the Aurora movie theater shooting. We were visiting my family. My cousin was reading on his phone and looked up and said something like, “Someone shot and killed people where you are from.” Jesus Marija. I would start high school in Aurora in a few months. Tikrai? “Really?” Oh, God. At home? Aurora? So many dead. I sat there at the restaurant table, felt the shock and pain and processed it for a minute. Then, I kept spooning the bright pink soup into my mouth.
I would like to say I said a prayer and it is possible I did, but I do not remember. All I know is I could not hold it.
It is too much. To be alive is to bear an unspeakable ache if we are to love our fellow human beings. Being alive is something both wonderful and horrible, and it is difficult some days to walk so precariously on that line.
I want each of us to know and believe from the inside out that we are loved, because I am fairly convinced that will change everything.
No, I cannot hold it, we cannot hold it, and there is no guarantee of anything but that life is somehow good and we are somehow loved beyond our wildest, most religious imaginations. We can only hold each other.
I do want my legislators to get it together to help citizens both survive and not murder each other. I do want the ideologies that kill and subjugate people to unravel. Above all, I want each of us to know and believe from the inside out that we are loved, because I am fairly convinced that will change everything.
The last words of the girl from the barn, the sweetest Claire who made me feel welcome and cared for when most people there didn’t, the 17-year-old who was planning to become a nurse before one day at school turned out to be her last, were, “What are you doing?”
God who is love, forgive us, for we know not what we do, and we cannot hold it. Change us from the inside out.