I never thought I would live in a suburb where a mass shooting would occur, especially a shooting where the highest number of persons was injured in American history. It felt too close to home, literally 4.7 miles from where we live. I have taken my daughter to that theater in the past month. I also worked at the University of CO Hospital most recently and many of my previous colleagues are social workers, nurses and doctors that helped treat many of the victims and their families. Other friends, or friends of friends, know the victims. ( We are all connected). The type of fear, emptiness, and heavy energy that was felt on July 20, 2012 reminded me of New York’s 911 or the Columbine shootings. I could literally feel, as many of you did, the shock and fear of the souls involved. When 911 was occuring I was at work and ended up being glued to the television, not able to concentrate, and while I felt somewhat removed it was also the first realization in my lifetime that we are vulnerable to all types of terror and destruction.
On July 20, 2012 the first indication that something had happened came from my ex husband who texted me, “did you hear about the mass shooting in Aurora last night? At the Aurora movie theater, its all over the news.” I thought to myself that perhaps this was some gang members or another reason where they may have been a mass shooting – kids, a fight broke out, or a police involvement. But, I also got a message and call from my sister in another state, “Please tell me you weren’t at the midnight showing of the Dark Knight in Aurora last night with [your daughter].” And I write back, “What are you talking about? Did someone hack into my Facebook?”
Finally, I was in the car listening to NPR, and my heart began to hurt and I could sense fear as I passed the Century 16 theater on the way to work where dozens of police cars, police tape, helicopters flying above, television satellite vans were parked. The entire block and mall parking lot were blocked off from traffic but full of news anchors, crime scene teams, and persons being interviewed among the trees. It became real. I listened more to NPR and called my sister back. I assured her I was okay and asked her to contact my mother, in prison with limited contact, to let her know I was okay. More emails, calls and text messages came in asking about our safety. This news was major news, national and international. It went to the President around 3 am and I heard him address the public at one of his campaigns approximately at 9am:
“I’m sure many of you who are parents here had the same reaction I did when I heard this news. My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been in the theater, as so many of our kids do every day? Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight, and I’m sure you will do the same with your children. For those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation…
The tears really started then as I heard this live on NPR.
If there’s anything to take away from this tragedy it’s the reminder that life is very fragile,” the President continued. “Our time here is limited and it is precious. What matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.”
The tears started as I heard this live on NPR. I wanted immerse myself in the grief from all the loss that I have had over the years and how grateful I was for my daughter, who was safe at school, or so I was going to believe. I imagined the families that were not able to sleep, crying all night, that were not able know if their precious son or daughter, brother or sister, romantic partner was alive. Unfortunately, many have been through this process with other shootings and mass killings around the world, or other loss due to accidents, disease and the like. I have been through similar shock and tragedy when I was young and my mother was taken to prison and we all went through the trial for months (which Holmes, the attacker will soon go through in a death penalty state) while feeling shame, fear and anxiety, wondering what persons would think about me at school, how the teachers and others would treat me as it was a small city and many also knew about the crime my mother was accused of nationwide. I learned about death and loss at an early age and had close friends die in high school, one of which I was a paul bearer. It sometimes made me numb, and other times it was a moment to release a high amount of pain and grief.
This incident, on July 20, 2012 will continue to unfold over weeks and months and families may never feel complete peace, forgiveness or the ability to feel secure. I often struggle with the same. It has taken me most of my adult life to move towards all of those myself – to feel peace, to forgive others, and to not be afraid of or imagine accidents, tragedies or major loss in my life. As a parent I have had to really let go of some of these anxieties. I have had to provide some amount of freedom of movement and let my daughter explore the world in the manner that she seems to innately feel drawn to. This is difficult with a young child as you have to balance out the extremes.
It has also been a lifelong struggle to not have to protect myself from others all the time, imagining that they somehow don’t like me because of my past. I would be paranoid that others would find out about my imperfect upbringing, would blame me for the mistakes of others in my life, would want to hurt me because someone they know someone who got hurt. I have slowly released the guilt and shame, and continue to do so, and move towards love, just as is described below. I have to believe that something good will come out of this painful tragedy. Lives will be touched in ways that we cannot see yet. Persons will experience some immense spiritual and emotional growth and will love a little deeper, trust a little more, and move towards peace and forgiveness.
Aurora Shootings: Love Back
Written by Mike Johnston on July 20th, 2012 at 9:59 pm in Community
Yesterday, four million Coloradans went to work and played football in their front yard; strangers opened doors for each other; people gave blood, offered shelter, served hot meals, held grandkids, played pick-up basketball and committed unnumbered acts of kindness and gentleness. One Coloradan dressed up like a villain and believed that by showing up at the site of America’s mythical hero he could slay our actual heroes.
It’s true there was no Batman sitting in the theater to fly down and tackle James Holmes, as he hoped there might be. He had tactical assault gear covering his whole body, ready for America to fight back.
But love is more organized than that. Love has cellphones and ambulances, nurses and doctors, complete strangers and policemen and emergency responders always at the ready. Love has nurses who will jump out of bed in the middle of the night and get family members to watch their children so they can rush to the hospital and save the life of someone they’ve never met. Love has first responders who will walk into a booby-trapped building to save the lives of neighbors they will never meet.
It must be lonely being James Holmes, spending the first part of your life planning alone for an act that will leave you sitting alone for the rest of your life. For the rest of us, life is crowded. Love is always only three numbers and one movie seat away.
We have lived our country’s history as a chapter of wars, and many of those wars we have been blessed to win. We are a team that loves each other and will fight for each other, and if you punch us in the mouth, we will fight back.
That is one of our obvious strengths, but it is not our greatest strength. America’s awesome strength to fight is overwhelmed by its irrepressible strength to love. James Holmes took twelve lives last night. Love saved fifty-nine lives. Policemen on the scene in minutes, strangers carrying strangers, nurses and doctors activated all over the city.
But we didn’t stop there. Love saved the 700 other people who walked out of the Aurora movie theater unhurt.
But we didn’t stop there. Love saved the 5,000 who went to see Batman all over Colorado, and the 1.2 million who saw it all over the country, who walked in and out safely with their friends, arm in arm. But we didn’t stop there. Love claimed the four million other Coloradans who went to bed peacefully last night, ad who woke up this morning committed to loving each other a little deeper.
The awe of last night is not that a man full of hate can take twelve people’s lives; it is that a nation full of love can save 300 million lives every day. I sat this morning wondering what I could do to help: give blood, support victims, raise money, stop violence. How could we start to fight back?
My friends were texting me that they had plans to take their kids to Batman tonight but were now afraid to go. Others who were going to play pick-up basketball or go out to dinner were now afraid to leave home. They thought they would bunker down in their home and wonder, “How do we fight back?”
The answer is we love back. We live back. We deepen our commitments to all the unnumbered acts of kindness that make America an unrendable fabric. We respond by showing that we will play harder, and longer. We will serve more meals, play more games, eat more food, listen to more jazz, go to more movies, give more hugs, and say more “thank yous” and “I love yous” than ever before.
So while James Holmes settles into the cell where he will spend the rest of his life, wondering what we will do to fight back, we will love back. We will go to a park this afternoon and play soccer, we will go to the playground and restaurants and movie theaters of our city all weekend and all year.
He should know not only that he failed in his demented attempt to be the villain, but that Batman didn’t have to leap off the screen to stop him, because we had a far more organized and powerful force than any superhero could ever have. Even the twelve lives that he took, this nation will love so strongly and so deeply that we will ensure they get a lifetime full of love out of a life he tried to cut short.
And the fifty-nine lives we took back will be so overrun with love that they will live their lives feeling blessed every day, and everyone who ever meets them will pass on in an instant a love they never knew they earned but we will never let them forget.
In a movie theatre in Aurora 50 years from now, one of last night’s survivors will be waiting in the popcorn line and mention that he was in Theatre 9 on that terrible summer night in 2012. And inexplicably, with an arm full of popcorn, a total stranger will reach out and give that old man a huge hug and say, “I’m so glad you made it.”
This story to be CONTINUED…
Cynthia Djengue, BA, MSW, CHC