We Are All Columbine

April 20th may not mean much to a lot of people, but to some this date has significance. It hit me this morning that today marks eighteen years since that horrific day in Littleton, Colorado that will forever mark Columbine in the pages of history. It’s scary how the memories can rush in if you let them.

Ribbon on a ledge at the Columbine Memorial honoring the 13 lives lost on April 20, 1999

Columbine Memorial

I remember being in the girls high school locker room  changing from gym class when the announcement came over the loudspeaker of the lockdown. I remember our house somehow became the teen headquarters that afternoon as we all gathered from our various spots. We kept a master list of everyone that we knew was okay through the chatter of the teenage grapevine, our eyes glued to the news to pick out more faces from the background. Mom made spaghetti. Dave and Zac just happened to ditch class and go to Taco Bell that day. They’re okay. We saw Lucas’s green hair on TV. He’s okay. Put him down on the list.  I cried in Jeremy’s arms. No one could locate Luke. Everything was chaos.

We later found out why no one was able to locate one of our friends when we watched on TV as the SWAT team finally cleared out the last of the school building. He was in the music room–one of the last parts of the school to be cleared. It had gotten so hot in there when they barricaded the door that some of them took off their clothes. They stayed in there until SWAT rescued them and escorted them out of the ransacked school. Later on several others were interviewed on national TV for crawling through the vents and helping others escape that way. Our prom pictures from the following weekend all have forced smiles and puffy eyes.

They combined schools the remaining few weeks of the year, which wasn’t really school at all but more like forced group therapy sessions and an awkward reason to be together and grieve. FBI agents ran around on the roof and news trucks were planted everywhere. Lockdown became the new normal. Graduation was a blur and I think most of us went off to college ready for a restart. Although I quickly learned to white lie and say I was from a suburb of Denver (not Littleton) during that freshman year to avoid the awkward silence that came with the fame of being from Littleton.

Eighteen years.

Some details are hazy while others are crystal clear. I see the remembrance video with the pictures of the twelve students and teacher Dave Sanders and think of the families of all those visiting graves today. There are no words to how their lives were affected from that day, and still are. Where are they now? What are they doing? Dare I ask about the families of the two shooters–Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold? The videos and news stories never show them although they were students too. That of course is out of respect for those lost. Everyone lost something that day. I still can’t help but think of the hearts of the families of those two boys who will forever be broken too. So many innocent lives taken by those who should’ve remained innocent. We are approaching the point where more time has passed and they’ve been gone longer than when they were alive. My perspective looks very different as an adult eighteen years later.

I can’t help but think of the San Bernardino community that I lived in for five years and how the worlds of that elementary school and those families were rocked just last week by another school shooting, or the twenty-six from Sandy Hook elementary just five years ago.

We all have dates that will forever remain significant.

But as one friend mentioned the bouquet of columbines represented on social media profiles, this one is a reminder of how strong the human heart can be. Healing comes in all forms and in many, many stages. It doesn’t have to be the tragedy of a mass shooting that breaks our hearts and leaves scars that connect us to others. So many things can break us to pieces as we go through life and partner with others on how to put the pieces back together. Loss comes in so many forms. Some might be enraged at the mention of God and how He weaves the fabric of our experiences and wounds into a bigger tapestry, and that’s okay. Be enraged. For me it’s just a reminder that our time here is short, scars do heal…and in time we can be stronger for it.

Stone memorial with a quote commemorating Columbine

“I would be misleading you if I said I understand this. I don’t.” — Student

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