I had just finished doing my Zumba 2 for Wii and was standing in front of the TV sweating profusely when I heard that there had been a shooting in Aurora, Colorado. This time it was at the midnight showing of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises and it was like a scene out of a horror movie. It seemed crazy, all those people going to have a fun evening out with their favorite super hero and then the unimaginable happened. There was panic, fear, and yet in those moments of confusion, incredible bravery as strangers helped strangers survive. On the news, you've seen family members' faith in God unshaken even as they stand by the bedside on of the victims and you wonder how they can be so calm and have the wisdom to forgive someone who shattered their lives? Time and time again, tragedy after tragedy, you see good people at their very best after the dealing with the reality of the absolute worst.
You probably know the horrific details of the shooting so I'll only deal with the numbers, at this point, 12 people dead and 58 wounded from bullets and the gas bomb that this whack job used to keep people from being able to leave the theater easily. The victims range from a three month old baby to a man who was celebrating his 27th birthday. It's another inconceivable act from the mind of someone so emotionally disturbed and evil who wanted to spread his misery to others. It's emotional terrorism whether it's part of a political or religious group - it's designed to make us feel scared and helpless - to shake us so that we don't do what we love like going to a movie because we're afraid someone will hurt us. It reminds us how fragile life is and that we can't take anything for granted. If anything good can come from this tragedy, maybe realizing that you need to tell the people that you love how much you love them because - well - you just never know. But if I know my fellow Americans, and I've been one for almost 50 years - I know we'll raise past this, hopefully learn from it and work to make sure it never happens again.
I was just a few months old when President Kennedy was shot. That act also was designed to make us scared and ask: if the President of the United States is not safe, then who among us is? The heartbreaking image of a young John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket is an image that is burned into most American's collective unconscious even if they weren't around to actually see it live. The assassination happened almost 49 years ago around Thanksgiving and I'm sure that many people in 1963 thought that they could never enjoy another Thanksgiving after what the Kennedys and the country had been through. Few people felt like having Christmas and probably muddled through as best they could to keep some sense of normalcy for the sake of the children. I'm sure that the prayers on that New Year's Eve is that 1964 would bring better times. Ironically in my family it did, my sister Sharon was born just nine months after that fateful day in Dallas. It occurred to me one day in the mid 1990's on my way to work on Metro-Rail in Miami, that perhaps one part of the divine purpose of something as tragic as John F. Kennedy's passing is that we all need to connect on a deeper level - to reassure ourselves that life goes on. A year later, people were still missing the young president and his family in the White House, but Thanksgiving eventually came back to realizing just what you had to be thankful for. Like loving the time you have with the people you love because sometimes there are no do overs.
I remember when the Columbine shootings happened - Max and I just had to turn off the TV after a while because school is a place that a child should be safe and the reality of what was happening in real time as it happened was just to horrible to conceive. Amber was just two then and we had just moved up to Georgia. I thought about how I was glad that she was sleeping in her room at home after were we could keep an eye on her and thanking God that for that moment in time I had that sort of control - to keep my child safe in my arms but knowing I won't always be able to keep her that way. As the days, weeks and months after the Columbine shootings occurred you saw a community and people all over the world come together and send well wishes to the children and teachers who had been victimized. Strangers were raising money to help the victims and their families because it helped them and you heal. The end result is that it spurred closer scrutiny at dress codes, school security and threats posted on-line which has prevented similar atrocities from happening.
Max and I also saw 9/11 happen live on TV - just after Charlie Gibson had finished his interview with Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York who was once a princess and how she had made a real mess of her life on Good Morning America. Those last few seconds of normalcy were the ones you take for granted just like the night before when our family had gone to Golden Corral with five year old Amber and nine month old Daniel. We, like most Americans on that September 10, 2001, had no idea that was the last dinner we'd have before the country felt like it had been kicked in the stomach and thousands of people would die in coordinated attacks. I remember then that we had to turn off the TV after about 11:00 a.m. because it was just too much to comprehend. I kept on thinking that it was a bad Bruce Willis movie and that at the end - the credits would roll and life would go back to normal. But there would never be that same normal again. There were grounded airplanes and travelers not stuck for hours in one place, but days with limited supplies because some very small airports now had hundreds or thousands of travelers. The townspeople in these cities rallied and brought food to these very weary travelers - unlikely friendships were struck out of that tragedy as total strangers bore their souls to each other out of fear and loneliness. Everyone felt bad, everyone had seen the news - everyone hurt and as a collective we were there for each other.
I remember working at Actor's Express in Atlanta and coming out of the theater and seeing a young woman in tears a few days after the attacks. I didn't have to ask why, I knew. I instinctively gave her a hug and told her it would be alright as my own tears fell to the pavement. The woman noticed Daniel in the stroller and we started to talk about how fast babies grow and for a moment - it felt like before 9/11 - before your sense of security being seared off your soul. She got Daniel to smile and for him to hold her hand. She was grateful to have someone to talk to as she waited for her husband to pick her up - he was running late and that added to her anxiety. He arrived, we hugged again and she got in the car. I never saw the woman again but I'll never forget that quick connection to the mutual pain we all felt - my God - how could you not? After that, I frequently brought the baby Daniel with me to work during those tough days and weeks. He was a welcome respite from all the terrible news that was going on then. He would be passed from lap to lap, cheerfully eating his Cheerios and playing with his baby keys. He was a happy baby because his world was exactly the same as it was before 9/11. The people who worked at the theater needed to touch that sweet innocence - that new beginning of hope that babies bring. I imagine that during the days after the Kennedy assassination, I played the same role - being that infantile philosopher that showed the world that life goes on even when everything looks bleak because it has to - life is like that. It's self renewing and having that knowledge can pull you out of the darkest times.
In these first few days after such a frightening event, saying prayers for the victims helps momentarily but then you just feel like nothing makes sense. You can still have your belief in God, but question how this could have been part of his/her plan. A six year old and a sailor should be sharing ice cream and not the fate of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why did that man have to die on his 27th birthday on a night when he was tweeting on how psyched he was to see The Dark Knight? Why didn't fate step in and stop James Holmes on the way to the theater? How could something as simple as going to a movie become more hazardous than traveling down a hostile road in Iraq? I'm not sure if there is a greater plan at work here - maybe it's just a wake up call to finally get some responsible legislation on gun control. Because this time it wasn't about kids in school, or a President - it could have been any of us sitting in a theater trying to forget about life to awhile - even someone who belongs to the NRA.
This weekend, I'm thinking about those other tough times in history when we've been tested and we've come back stronger than before. We support each other - churches and other religious organizations see up ticks in attendance and for that moment and let's face it - the moment doesn't last forever - but we're united because that's the way it needs to be right now. People will enjoy going to movies again and not be afraid. After 9/11- Broadway struggled but in a few months was back to the same audiences it had before the attacks and unlike the airlines, without a government subsidy. It took time for the airlines to come back but now there's metal detectors, air marshals and security delays that most people don't mind because it's what we need to be safe. It's been almost 11 years since 9/11 and yet their has not been a successful attack - just thwarted plans because of that security. People understand that need and don't complain because we don't want to go back to that horrible day in September 2001.
Good people will always trump the bad - that's just who we are. There are the heroes from that night who don't want the attention and were just glad to be there to lend a hand and just had enough insane courage to make a difference. There are good people out there trying to do the right things for the victims of the crime - like the United Way of Denver that is taking donations for the victims and local churches holding vigils and offering comfort because that's just what they do. So hold your children tighter, kiss your partner harder and love the time you have together - because bad people never triumph and the Dark Knight will rise again.