i woke up excited.

I woke up excited. My phone had been making text sounds nonstop, and I realized that today is the day before my birthday, and it’s my birthday party tonight! I bet the texts were asking questions. I even had a mini-daydream before, thinking it was my boss telling me to take the day off so I could get into my 60’s best for my Mad Men-themed evening.

Instead, it was a stream of text messages, including:

denver“My mom asked me to make sure you and your friends are okay. I guess some really terrible things happened during Batman near Denver.”
“I heard the news and just want to confirm ur ok and in one piece.”
“Just checking…You weren’t at a midnight showing of dark knight in aurora last night were you?”

I was so confused, and immediately checked our local news station.

“Holy shit. Twelve people shot in Aurora last night in a movie theater. 50 wounded,” I said. My girlfriend woke up and said “Dammit.” Minutes later, we were both up and the news was on. The entire thing was a whirlwind of emotions.

I called my friend who lives near the theater and loves midnight showings (she freaked when Avengers came to town). She didn’t answer and I left a message. Luckily, she called back and told me that her and her friends were headed to the $6.50 Century theaters because they’re closest to her house, but decided last minute to go to the $10.50 theater because more people would be there to admire their costumes. Spending four more dollars may have saved her life.

I sat blankly, watching the news until I had to leave for work. Walking out the door I received a text that said “So glad you’re safe though. I hate that not everyone can say that to their best friend today.” Then I started to cry.

I was a freshman in high school when the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon happened. School was let out early, which was odd, because nobody in my tiny town in Wisconsin was affected. I have little memory other than being angry that the Food Network wasn’t working that evening, because I just needed to not hear about murder and see the image of the man jumping from the building every three minutes on every station. One year later, in 2002, I cried at school on September 11. For the first time about the event, something hit me. I remember walking from the photography classroom and someone saying, “It’s just sad that I feel so affected when I know nobody who was involved.” I thought to myself, “Hey, me too!” and cried all day.

My coworker came into work upset about the Fort Collins fire. Her friend was nervous about his childhood home going up in flames – then he went to a news station’s Facebook page and saw that they changed their cover photo to a neighborhood burning. His neighborhood. I became physically ill when she told me. I’ve met her friend once, in passing, but that’s how he found out he lost his childhood home. Social media told him by making their page look dramatic.

I am told that I am empathetic versus sympathetic – I let other people put their load on my shoulders so I can bear some of it for them. Nobody should have to suffer alone. Seeing the people who were interviewed on the news this morning – so incredibly calm – I can’t imagine what they’re feeling. And so, as I try to take their load onto my shoulders and I come to work at my peace organization that focuses on youth, and I take on phone calls of reporters who want to talk to Columbine shooting victims who are a part of our organization to get their take on it, and I listen to stories of my interns riding on the light rail with the aunt of a shooting victim, and I can’t escape messages of loved ones worrying about me when I’m not even affected, I’m left bearing feelings of confusion. How can I help when I don’t know how to read all of these emotions? How can any of us help?

The spirit moving within me tells me to pray. I’m praying to anything – a God, the grass that attempts to be green in our 100+ degree drought, the people around me – anything that will listen. I am sending love to those who are waiting in hospital rooms. There is a three-month old who’s been shot. There’s a news reporter whose friend was shot in the arm and the leg. There are people who have been shot and their family doesn’t know it yet. I am sending strength to the police who are dealing with the shooter. A boy the same age as I am – I say boy because it’s hard to imagine myself as a full-fledged adult when I still feel like I want to crawl into my mother’s lap when something like this happens. I hope they find justice for those involved in the safest and most fair way possible.

I woke up excited. Now, I’ll spend my days (as many of you will as well) glued to my TV and local newspapers, praying and loving and staying strong for those who need it.

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