“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful an experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
As you have all likely heard, a deranged young man opened fire on a theater full of innocent people at a midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” early yesterday morning in Aurora, Colorado. Living in big cities, I’ve been no stranger to local tragedies, but this one hit pretty close to home.
I’ve been a giant Batman nerd since I can remember. What’s not to love? He is a privileged man who understands that not everyone was dealt the same hand and uses his wealth for the betterment of society. He believes so strongly in humanity that he risks his life to save strangers and refuses to murder anyone. Plus, he doesn’t even have any actual superpowers—he’s just an incomparable badass with a slew of ridiculously cool gadgets. I’m getting off topic.
Anyone who really knows me assumed I’d be attending one of the midnight screenings of the newest film from our generation’s Scorsese—Christopher Nolan. The second July rolled around, I was bursting at the seams in anticipation, and by the night of the premiere, I was pee-my-pants excited. This week, I went online to purchase advance tickets for myself and five of my friends. Of course, all the IMAX showings were sold out, so I went to buy regular tickets at the theater close to my house. It was also sold out. Knowing I had to work in Aurora that night, the next theater I considered was the Century 16 theater where the shooting took place. It was perfect, because I didn’t get off work until 11pm, and I knew
people would be in line as early as 8pm, dressed to the nines as Batman and his villains, and I wanted to get to the theater as quickly as possible. I was frustrated when I didn’t find Century 16 in a list of available theaters near me, presumably because it, too, had sold out. I begrudgingly chose the downtown theater—the first one I could find that wasn’t sold out, and fretted all day about being late for the film because, for Christ’s sake, it was a half hour drive from work!
We loved the movie. It was everything I wanted it to be, and well-worth the obnoxious amount of anticipation I’d built around its four-years-in-the-making release. When we left the theater, we were all high on the impressiveness of it, feverishly discussing our favorite parts, what we predicted, didn’t see coming, didn’t like as much. Strangers stopped me to ask for my thoughts on it. I only barely noticed that there were about three policemen per half block surrounding the theater. Since I was walking back to my car alone and, in true Bailey fashion, wasn’t sure just exactly where I parked it, I only remember being subconsciously thankful for their unusual presence. As promised, I sent a text to a friend at work, who’d been jealous I was going and wanted to know RIGHT AWAY just how awesome the movie was. In response, she sent a fevered message that there’d been a horrible shooting in Aurora and instructed me to go directly home. She hadn’t mentioned that it took place in a theater showing the very movie my friends and I had just been gushing over, while we were enjoying it. The very theater I’d tried to buy tickets to, just a few days earlier. When I “Googled” the shooting and found out, I felt like throwing up.
I did, indeed, go straight home, and promptly sent a message to my parents letting them know the horrible news they’d be hearing when they woke up, that I’d been unable to get tickets to that theater, and that my friends and I were all just fine. But we weren’t, really. Those of us who found out right away didn’t sleep much. We still haven’t. We all woke up on Friday to a ridiculous, but comforting, amount of texts, voicemails, tweets and Facebook messages asking desperately, “Tell me you didn’t go to that theater!,” and “Are you okay?” One of my friends fell asleep with her phone on silent, and her parents were nervous wrecks when she finally got a hold of them. I don’t know that any of us had been so close to such an awful event that it would incite panic even in friends we hadn’t spoken to in over a year.
My coworkers offered sighs of relief, sympathy, and lots of questions when I reported to work the next day, greeted by enhanced security, police, road blocks, and the crime scene that is Holmes’ apartment right across the street. Another friend was evacuated from her workplace, because Holmes had access to those buildings less than a month ago. One student nurse was beside himself, saying things like “Man, that could’ve been you! Like, you could not be here right now!” When I talked about how guilty I would’ve felt dragging my friends there for the selfish reason of making my commute shorter, he replied, “You can’t feel guilt if you’re dead.”
Insensitive, yes. Big time. But also true. Slowly finding out that people we knew, friends of friends, and colleagues had been victims, or had been brought to our hospital—that we could see his apartment from our building—made the situation all the more surreal. A friend of a friend, whom I’d just seen the night before, was shot and in critical condition. We could have been—almost were—there in that theater, but these people—real people we knew, lived next to, interacted with—they were there. I don’t think any of us has wrapped our mind around how horrible and terrifying that experience could have been. How much those people’s lives will change, if they were lucky enough to make it through. How lucky we are that we didn’t go to my first choice theater.
Even people who hadn’t seen the movie were struggling with questions like, “why?” and “how?” This type of thing rattles the entire country, even the world. The makers of the film cancelled international openings and put out very tactful and empathetic statements about the situation, now being called the Aurora Theater Batman Shooting, or Dark Knight Rises Shooting. But for those of us who live here, who frequent that theater, who may have worked next to the victims or even the perpetrator, it just doesn’t seem real. People’s lives were ended or changed because they went about the simple task of seeing a movie. They went with probably as much excitement to see the film as I had. Some initially thought Holmes’ antics were a part of the show. People lived or died based on their choice of movie theater. It just doesn’t make any sense.
This post probably doesn’t serve as anything more than my own processing of a horrible tragedy that I almost was a part of, but wasn’t, but I hope what happened affects you. My mom says it was by the Grace of God that I wasn’t there. I don’t know how I feel about that—why, then, would God let it happen to everyone else? I normally believe in karma, but no one in that theater deserved that to happen. I normally believe that everything happens for a reason, but how can what happened possibly be made to seem reasonable? Jen, who was with me, probably said it best. “We just weren’t meant to be there. I was just so thankful waking up this morning…” She didn’t mean that anyone was meant to be there, just that we weren’t there and that, while we are horrified about what happened to those other people, we can and should feel blessed and humbled that it didn’t happen to us. Because it could have happened to us. It could have happened to anyone.
I hope that all this makes people think—really think about how they live their lives, how they treat people, and what they take for granted. I didn’t cry until I was on my way home from work last night. It just came over me, and for the half-hour drive, I was an inconsolable mess. I don’t know if I’ve said “I love you” or talked to as many old friends in one day as I did when I finally came out of my half-sleep, half-dream haze on Friday morning. Maybe we should all do those things a little more often. Maybe we should all stop living like we’re entitled to another day and remember how short and unpredictable life is. I hope people are reminded of the value and fleetingness of life and learn to be more appreciative of what they have. I hope we all stop worrying about petty things, like how long it will take to get to the movie theater, because maybe those little inconveniences, like mine, are blessings in disguise. I hope people live. I hope people give blood, go to candlelight vigils, and offer whatever support they can, even if it’s just prayer, thoughts, kind words, or being respectful and quietly understanding of the grief in our community.
What I hope people stop doing is immediately politicizing or piously analyzing the situation or why it may have happened. We don’t know why it happened. You all likely know how my “hippie-pacifist-ass” feels about violence and guns, and you know how unapologetically opinionated I am. But now is not the time. We don’t know how we would have reacted to the situation, or if it was possible to stop it. I hope we all really think about that. I hope the rumors aren’t true, and Westboro Baptist Church realizes how ungodly, un-Christian, and
inhuman it is to protest the memorial services for the victims of the situation. If they fail to accept this, as they so often do, I hope the better people of the world will again show up to outnumber them and support the victims’ families. I hope people who use nothing but Facebook as a soap box or their efforts to “enact change” stop posting those insensitive photos of a man with a gun in his pants saying, “One guy in the crowd could have saved everyone last night.” It’s as sick as it is ignorant. There was a guy with a gun, and he murdered and injured damn near 100 people.
You weren’t there. By chance, neither was I. We don’t know what we would have done, even if we had a gun. We don’t know that some people in that theater didn’t make some heroic attempt to save another person, or if it would have even been possible. We also don’t know what drove Holmes to do this, or whether gun control would have stopped him. We are in no position to make judgments or pose “what-ifs” that do nothing but pour salt in already blistering emotional wounds. We have no idea, and we have no right to spout off our cocky opinions from our safe little seats on the other side. These people experienced real tragedy first-hand.
This isn’t about politics. It’s not about Republicans and Democrats, or who’s right. Not now. This isn’t about you. This isn’t about me and my friends, or the people who could’ve been there, and it isn’t about religion. It’s bigger than that. This is about the people in that theater whose lives either ended or changed forever. It’s about their families and their shock, agony, and confusion over what happened. This is about the family of James Holmes—a grown, independent man who acted of his own accord, and the hurt they’ll nonetheless have to deal with over what their troubled son has done. Can’t we at least wait for the whole story, for them to bury the dead and to cope?
In a few days, or several, we can talk about gun control or the nature of our country. We can and should work together to look at solutions to problems like this, as long as we look at real solutions over taking political sides. But that horrible day, today, and the next few should be reserved for grieving, understanding and support. That should be our first response, and politics second. Today should be about community and Holmes’ trial and making sense of what happened. Because that’s just it—we still don’t have all our questions answered, and some of them probably never will be. We don’t know what happened or why, and until we do, even the experts are in no position to analyze the overarching problems and possible solutions. And we, my friends, are no experts. So please, just show some compassion for the people connected to this awful tragedy and save the politics, the arguing, and the stubborn opinions for later. If you feel, as I do, totally helpless, that there’s nothing you can do to help, remember, you can keep your political opinions to yourself. You can quietly show solidarity and support. You can do that.
UPDATE: The Westboro Baptist Church has officially added tonight’s memorial service to their schedule. They are set to “protest” from 5pm-7pm, but we will not let them be seen by the families of the theater shooting victims. We will stand between them starting at 5pm. You can join us here (this event is expected to be huge, so please carpool):
Aurora Municipal Center – West Side Steps
15151 E. Alameda Parkway, Aurora, CO 80012
It is IMPERATIVE that we all remember this is a memorial service. We are all still reeling and hurting from what happened, and the families deserve respect. We will simply be forming a wall around the vigil, facing away from the WBC protesters. PLEASE do not protest, speak to, gesture at, or in ANY way engage or enable the protesters. (NO SIGNS). Not only is it disrespectful to the already grieving families, but it’s counteractive to what we are trying to do, because you’re giving them exactly what they want. We are going to keep them out and to show the families our strong, SILENT support. Nothing more.