Lessons Learned Through Tragedy
A good story has a clear protagonist & antagonist. The author uses words to create characters in our minds & guides us to be on one person's side over the other. Even if the hero is unlikely, or the lesser of two evils, inevitably, we read words, & we cheer for him.
Life isn't quite like that.
Sometimes things blend together, the black & white becomes a muddled shade of grey, & we're not sure whose side we're on, or who the good guys are. Instead of clear cut & valiant heroes with mortal enemies who creep around in the shadows conducting the business of nefariousness, we have news stories riddled with questions. Answering those questions means digging deeper into the story - the human story. In the digging, we find empathy because the players are all human & not that different from ourselves.
Remembering Littleton Colorado
The Moral of the Story
Empathy is what blends it all together, & muddies the waters of "why". Why did this happen? Why did this person do that? Why did no-one intervene? Why? Why? Why?
Answering the "why?" gives us peace. Answering "why?" makes it cut & dry. Answering "why?" means it won't happen to us because we know "why". Answering the question of "why" gives us an ending, & we no longer have to wade in the misery of the tragedy because we've discovered the moral of the story & He-Man is going to come on the screen any second & tell us what we've learned today.
If only it were that simple.
Columbine High School
Many, many years ago, at the age of 15, I watched a tragedy unfold on my television screen.
I watched as CNN broadcast ariel footage - a close up of a whiteboard positioned in front of a window with the words "1 Bleeding To Death", a boy barely clinging to life, crawling across the floor of a high school library toward a shot-out window one story above the ground, while news corespondents speculated over how many shooters there were & what their connection was to the supposed "Trench Coat Mafia".
On April 20, 1999, I was a just fifteen years old, & I watched the Columbine shooting, from start to finish, & continued to watch CNN's coverage late into the night. Seventeen-year-old Dylan Klebold, and eighteen-year-old Eric Harris, had murdered twelve students, & one teacher, before turning their guns on themselves & taking their own lives. As details of the High School shooting continued to filter in, the question of "why?" was already being asked.
Finding Fault & Laying Blame
It was the parents' fault. It was Marilyn Manson's fault. It was the high school's culture. It was because the boys played Doom too much & watched too many violent movies. It was bullying. It was just evil, pure evil, rearing its ugly head & attacking the good people of Littleton Colorado. It was America's gun culture - no, wait...It was definitely not that...It's never the guns. It was Eric Harris' supposed psychopathy. It was the fault of two angry boys, who loved violence, & had negligent parents who weren't paying attention, now lets put this all to bed & hope this never happens again.
...& we did put it to bed. Our eyes have closed on Littleton, & the story of Columbine High School is no longer a topical reference, or point of conversation anymore. This past April, eighteen years came & went, & no-one seemed to notice. The media didn't even bother to revive the story in the horrific way that news media in America likes to do.
As the months & years passed between April 1999 & now, we moved on in the way that we assume is "healthy" after tragedy. "Moving on", is purported to be an intrinsic, & necessary, part of the human condition.
Moving on & Learning Nothing
I often think, however, maybe we aren't supposed to move on.
Maybe this tragedy, & all others which have followed it, shouldn't be put to bed. Maybe we should carry it on our backs, & consider it with deep reverie. Maybe we owe this to those involved in the tragedy - to consider them daily, the fifteen lives that stopped that day.
Maybe we are meant to dwell in it, & in the dwelling to come up with better answers. Maybe we should chain the past to our backs, not to be held back by it, but rather to lug it behind us as a reminder of where we've been, an accumulation of tragedies, all building upon each other getting heavier & heavier, as we get stronger & stronger.
That is why I wanted to write about Columbine High School. Because it is a grey story, lacking in black & white heroes & villains, which I have never forgotten nor put to bed. It is a story which ties my stomach in knots, & I think that is as it should be. What I write was meant to convey my feelings, & they are this:
The Weight of Depression
I feel that we should be honest about our own depression.
I think, too often, we stay quiet about our own pain. I think we should speak more freely about what depression is, what it feels like, & how it affects us. I think that through speaking in honesty, we are helping ourselves, but more importantly, our words may stumble into the desperate ears of someone suffering with depression & in our sharing, the desperate may find the companionship they are looking for.
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I feel that, in the way of a tragedy, trying to allocate blame is akin to making a mockery of the tragic event. It oversimplifies things.
Instead, I feel that, to really learn from something, we need to keep it with us, not burry it in a file stamped "it was the parents' fault" & tuck it away.
Living a Life of Empathy
I feel that empathy is a gift we should give to all - not just the survivors & the families of the victims, but to everyone.
In the remembering, & the writing, I hope that I have, somehow, done justice to the enormity of this story. I intend no offence toward the family, friends, & those affected by this tragedy.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR - BRITTEN THOMPSON
Who is Britten? She's a reticent little beast born in the wilds of Northern Alberta to a foul-mouthed, French-Canadian father & an angry, stiff-upper-lipped mother. Britten is, almost always, wild-haired & poorly dressed. She recently left the beautiful & untamed chill of Canada for the blistering & somewhat oppressive heat of Australia. Her list of pastimes is short & includes reading, writing, petting cats, overeating & alphabetizing things. She's a fan of Windex on Facebook because who doesn't want a streak free shine? She dreams of one day writing a super-awesome novel that affords her & her partner a comfortable lifestyle, a large property, a few horses & the means with which to foster children in need...or just becoming a red panda.
When Britten isn't writing, reading, or organizing things in her home, she can be found cuddling with her boyfriend, arguing about why Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the history of ever, browsing Gumtree for a future cat or kitten, or contemplating days gone by, the passage of time & how ridiculous it is that humans have yet to evolve enough to grow a third set of teeth.