Tuesday, July 24, 2012
SLICE OF LIFE
It's been a hard week in Denver.
On Thursday night, I went to bed at 11:30. And everything was fine.
Five and a half hours later, I got up and discovered that nothing was fine anymore.
There had been a shooting in Aurora. Seven or eight miles from my house. At a theater I know well. Century 16 is where we went when my son turned 8. The first summer after I adopted him. We saw PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. It's where my boys learned "movie manners." Where I saw ET and PASSION OF THE CHRIST. Where many of my students go to the movies.
And now there had been a shooting. Twelve people were dead. Fifty-eight more wounded. I watched the news in horror. A man frantically waving a xeroxed picture of his son, later confirmed dead. Moms standing in the parking lot at Gateway High School, weeping as they hug teenagers they thought that they might never seen again. Exhausted rescue workers standing guard as police and FBI detectives collected evidence inside the theater.
I thought, as did most people, that I would probably know someone who had died, or been injured. I expected that at least one student from my school would be on the list. So far, though, I have had only distant connections. A principal in Denver lost her six-year-old great niece. That little girl's mama is paralyzed from the waist down. A man from my church, but not someone I knew. A high school friend of a checker at my grocery store. And a congregant of a pastor friend, who was shot in the head, but somehow, through a previously unknown abnormality in her skull, is miraculously ok.
Many others have not been so fortunate. There are twelve victims--Alex, the young man whose father had the picture- celebrating his 27th birthday with friends, and preparing to celebrate his first wedding anniversary that weekend. A single mom with two little girls. A baseball player who had just graduated from high school and was planning on attending art school in the fall. A Subway store worker. Three young men who died trying to protect their girlfriends. Two soldiers.
Many others are still hospitalized. A pastor from the Denver Rescue Mission, shot in the shoulder and leg. A former college running back, shot in the leg. One man, an aspiring comedian, shot in the head, is in a coma. His wife was with him, but was not injured. Last night, she was in labor, giving birth to their first child.
Others, not physically injured, have had their lives profoundly changed. Two hundred people were in that theater. Hundreds more were in other theaters in that complex. Probably fifty others worked at Century 16. Hundreds of emergency responders- policemen, firemen, ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses, other hospital workers- have also been impacted much by this tragedy. The people who lived in the shooter's apartment building have still not been allowed to return home.
I have cried much these last few days. As I watched the news. As I drove by the site of the shooting on Sunday on my way to church. As I attended the Community Prayer Vigil on Sunday night. And as I watched the shooter, James Holmes, in court.
People are, understandably, really, really angry at James Holmes. I'm not. At least not right now. I feel only a huge and profound sadness, that someone could be so, so, so alone, and so disconnected that they would be able to do something like that. There's lots of speculation that Holmes is mentally ill, possibly schizophrenic. I think something like that is probably true. And I feel sad that he could live in my city, and be so unknown and so unseen, that he could purchase all of that weaponry and ammunition and war gear, and spend months planning his crime and booby trapping his apartment, and no one even noticed. No one reached out, no one called the police, no one got him the help he clearly need.
I have wept, too, for James Holmes' parents. I have imagined what it would be like to be his mom, getting that phone call in San Diego early Friday morning. I watched his dad, in a blue plaid shirt and khakis, carry-on in hand, as he walked to police car, preparing to come to Denver. I have thought about him, sitting completely alone in a motel room, somewhere in my town. James Holmes committed a crime that is beyond horrific. And at the same time, he is still their child. I weep with them.
I wonder about James Holmes as a child. People have described him as being shy, a loner, and I wonder was he bullied to beyond his breaking point? Was there someone who could have reached out and protected him? Have I allowed that to happen to a child? Have I done everything that I can to teach my kids, and my students, to be "upstanders," not only to be kind, but to also protect those around them? To look out for others? To have enough empathy to reach out to someone who is totally alone, even if it might be at the expense of a little loss of your own social standing? Am I teaching kids to be bold enough to advocate for people who are too sick, or too weak, or too lost to advocate for themselves? To be on the lookout for others who might need help?
I'm thankful for books like WONDER and HOW TO STEAL A DOG. I'm really glad I have books like those to teach kids about kindness and empathy and compassion. And I'm thankful for books like Peter Johnston's OPENING MINDS. Johnston talks about how we can use language to help kids learn to see the world from other's perspective. And develop a social conscience.
And at the same time, I wonder, as a teacher and as a mom, and as a human being, have I done everything I can to make the world a safe place and a kind place?
It's been a hard week in Denver.