On a spring afternoon in 1999, I returned from a business school class to my crappy little 2nd floor apartment in Tallahassee, flopped on the couch and turned on TV. Between grad school classes and a nearly full time job at a local stock brokerage, I generally didn’t spend much time watching afternoon TV, so this was a unique indulgence.
My then girlfriend (now wife) had last watched CNN, so when that little 19 inch TV finally came to life it took a minute to register why I was seeing the call letters and graphics of a Denver news station. It took another moment to recognize what I was looking at: a helicopter view of bands of children running from a school. I was looking at the worst school shooting in U.S. history. And I was looking at home, having grown up less than 2 miles from that very sidewalk where anonymous teenagers ran from the most frightening morning of their lives.
After an incredibly late night of work last night, I returned to my company’s office in midtown Atlanta Friday morning. Groggy after a night of sleep that didn’t last as long as a soccer game that goes to penalty kicks; it took a moment to register the scroll at the bottom of the TV showing CNN in the office’s main lobby. Words like ‘Aurora, CO’, ‘shooting’.
Thirteen years ago I was a student dreaming of becoming some big shot corporate executive. Now, I am a not-very-big-shot-after-all corporate executive, yet here we are again. Everything has changed yet nothing has changed. Once again on a humid southern day, CNN tells me about tragedy happening in my home state while I helplessly hope and pray that a recognizable name will not emerge as a victim.
There was no Twitter in 1999, so any and all national discussion of a tragedy took place at the sanitized, impersonal distance of a TV show, internet site or radio show or at the immediately personal level – a relative calling; an email from a friend.
Now we can experience mass intimacy at a moment’s notice. My Twitter timeline usually filled with jokers and sports personalities was instead filled with ‘thoughts and prayers’ Friday. Tragedies such as Thursday night’s in this inter-connected world can go round the world in a moment and reactions rebound with the same intensity. Where once the affected would grieve in private, now the whole world can grieve in real time with strangers, friends and family alike. Through this inter-connected world even if you weren’t touched by the tragedy, it takes no time at all to realize that you are closer to someone that is affected than you are to Kevin Bacon.
Much like the post 9/11 world, there is a natural reaction to something like this to step back from the silliness and joy and instead think about BIGGER ISSUES. Whether it is family or friends, it is natural to look around and realize that everything you know and love could be gone tomorrow and it seems logical to re-evaluate how we have spent our time. Maybe the natural conclusion is that silly diversions such as sports, jokes or entertainment are just the shiny objects that mesmerize an infantile world so that we don’t notice the hypodermic needle filled with tragedy and loss plunging into our ass.
After a spring and summer spent watching half of the state turn to ash in the red hot burst of smoke, Colorado now must suffer through more tragedy and anguish. But in this arbitrary world where senseless tragedy happens regularly can we really set aside what brings us joy to focus on WHAT IT ALL MEANS?
Colorado is stung today and it will take time to heal. But paradoxically I would argue it is the very diversions people constantly lament that will help heal.
For many not directly affected by the Columbine tragedy, that grieving loop began to see closure not with some grand gesture or ode to what it all means but rather with a football team holding a state championship trophy the following year.
And so Colorado, a population so blessed to live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth will spend some time asking why, grieving for those that lost everything for no reason and begin to heal. It is with some tragic irony that this occurs in the weeks leading up to the most anticipated Broncos season in years. The greatest unifying factor for a state divided politically and culturally as much as any in the country is a football team that wears orange on Sundays.
A football game will never be as important as family, friends and life, but if it acts as aloe to the raw sunburn of loss for a few hours then this isn’t a diversion but a tonic.
So while those directly affected suffer through unimaginable pain it isn’t diversion and joy we should avoid, it is rather something we should seek. Maybe times like this aren’t an opportunity to re-evaluate our lives and seek a higher meaning. Maybe it is time to focus on the things we love and bring us joy, no matter what they may be.
If some fucked-up moron can walk into a theater or school cafeteria or even just take their eyes off the road to text ‘LOL’ and end our time on this big round ball, shouldn’t our time be spent focused on what and who we love?