On April 19, 1999, I was a relatively carefree eighth-grader at Boyle County Middle School, whose major concerns at the time were weightlifting for football and getting something cool to wear to the next middle school dance. On that day, I went to school with my classmates. While I don’t remember specifics, I have no doubt it was an ordinary day: Talking to friends. Listening to teachers. Going home to my parents.
I can’t imagine the scene for teenagers in Littleton, Colo., on that day was much different.
On April 20, 1999, the Columbine Massacre occurred, forever changing my world, along with the world of teenagers across the country. Everything seemed a little less innocent. There was evil in the world, and for most teens, this was their first encounter with it. School was a safe haven. School was a constant. You could depend on it with little variability. It was a societal tradition and norm.
Kind of like a movie theater.
The killing spree in Aurora is the latest of several national tragedies felt by my generation that has corrupted a national tradition and engulfed it with a sense of fear. Going to school. Attending college. Shopping at the mall. Catching a movie with friends. All these feel a little less warm, less clean.
After being awake until 4 a.m., I woke up Friday morning at around 7 a.m. with the movie on my mind. In talking to my dad, a Batman fan who’s yet to see the film, I launched into my dissection of the movie without letting him get a word in the conversation. I was rambling on and on about likes and dislikes about the film, as if my criticism was the most important thing in the world. As I’m wrapping up this one-sided conversation and heading out the door, Dad managed to sneak in a phrase: “Did you hear about the shooting in Colorado?”
I froze. When I learned the details, I was embarrassed. I was having a bad morning, upset because I went to the movie and was disappointed in the final product. In Colorado, fans much like me went to the theater and never emerge alive. Any problems I had seemed so trivial. My heart broke, and continues to do so.
As updates were released throughout Friday, I couldn’t escape them. It kind of felt wrong to do so. The victims were people like me. They were excited movie fans —much like the teenagers at Columbine — and the college students at Virginia Tech. What exactly is now safe?
People often argue that my generation is spoiled by technology and lacking in work ethic. On the whole, that might be true. But because of tragic events like Aurora, Columbine and Virginia Tech, my generation has also had to grow up just a little bit quicker. We’ve had to realize the world is not the idealistic place we believed it to be when we were young. This saddens me, as I’m sure it does most. When events like this happen, it’s hard to think of anything else.
But we can’t let it change us. If we do, the evil responsible for the shooting wins. We must remember the victims and hold them and their families in our thoughts and prayers. And while we take corrective measures to ensure something of this nature never happens again — and yes, I vote stricter gun control laws — we don’t remember the act. We don’t give the killer the validation he seeks.
Above all, we must live our lives without fear in our hearts. There is evil in this world, and we’ve just been reminded of it. But we can’t let it be the focus.
To quote Nolan’s “The Dark Knight:” “Because that’s what needs to happen. Because sometimes ... the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”
Charlie Cox is a former Advocate-Messenger staff writer.