Friday, November 16, 2012

In which I respond to gun violence.

I originally had a happy, puppies and kittens and rainbows post planned for today.

But then news came down the pipeline of a foiled future shooting at a screening of the new Twilight movie.

Now, I am someone who goes to the movies quite often.  In my perfect world, I'd probably be there at least once a week (which is usually the case during summer).  I'm a fan of midnight showings, because you're there  in a theater full of people who love something as much as you do (or maybe even more) and you all laugh, cry, get mad, and are shocked by plot twists together.

I was at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises this summer, albeit I was in Minnesota and not Colorado, and, like many people, didn't hear about the murders that happened there until the next day.  I was shocked and saddened and, unfortunately, reminded of a wound that still doesn't want to heal fully for a lot of my friends from college (and, to a smaller extent, to me, too).

I am proud, so, so, so proud to call Virginia Tech my home.  It's where I became who I am, it's where I made my closest friends, it's where I believed that, for the first time, I could make a difference in this world.  A real, honest to goodness difference.

And, if you haven't made the connection yet, my senior year of high school was when the place I loved was torn apart by tragedy.

My home, my friends, were all put at the mercy of one person with a gun.  A person who shouldn't have been able to buy that gun, that ammunition, in the first place, but somehow, someway, he did, and 32 members of my family died because of it.

I watched in horror as the death count rose, but never for a second did I reconsider going there in the fall.  I was horrified that things had been allowed to escalate that far, that someone who clearly needed help didn't get it in time, and that someone could be filled with so much hate and confusion that they would take it out on  classmates and professors.  On an RA who was just trying to do his job.  On anyone he could get close to.

My friends lost friends that day, and although I'm lucky enough to not be able to make that terrible claim, my heart still aches for the 32 people who died just because they chose to go to school or work that day.  When my freshman year at Tech started, we were still healing, still figuring out how to move on while honoring everyone we lost.  And we did move on, we are trying to heal - but, just like most things, that takes time.

I share this because, as I read about the possible Twilight shooting today, memories of that day - and the anniversaries of that day - filled my mind.  And, I'll admit, I'm writing this through quite a few tears.  I remembered the Dark Knight Rises shooting this summer, the Sikh Temple shootings that occurred not too long ago, Columbine...the list can go on and on and on.

And that's the unfortunate thing.  All of these communities are torn apart through an act that is so hateful and callous that it shouldn't be allowed to be real.  It shouldn't exist, these deaths shouldn't have happened to people who just wanted to learn, or watch a movie at midnight, or pray.  But they did happen, and sometimes it's hard for me to make sense of it all.

After the murders at the Dark Knight Rises screenings, a lot of people united, with rallying cries of "Keep going to the movies!  Don't let the shooter win!" It's a sentiment that I've seen echoed a lot when injustices like this happen - people demand a return to normalcy, a way to show the perpetrators that no, you didn't take our power away.

And, to an extent, I'm all for this.  I went to the movies the day after it happened, just to prove that I wasn't afraid.

But, you know what?  That was a lie.  I was afraid.  Not afraid of the exact-same-thing-happening, but still, I was on edge, I worried that something might happen.  Maybe not in my theater.  Maybe not in that state.  But the worry that it was possible - that another place I loved dearly had now been defiled by unwarranted violence and death - made me worry about, essentially, everything.  Would there be no safe place now?  When public squares, movie theaters, schools, universities, military bases, houses of worship, become scenes of chaos and loss, of confusion, unending sadness, and trauma, what's left?  And will we, can we ever truly be safe?

Well, the answer to that question is a resounding no.  Safety, although a nice thought, is no more a reality than anything that happens in the books, movies, and TV shows that I love so much.  But there are steps to lessen the gap - there are so many steps, so many small things we can do to prevent these hideous things from happening again.

First, if you think someone needs help, you can either a) reach out to them or b) help them get to a counselor, therapist, someone, anyone.  They might not be a threat to themselves or others, and if they are, then I certainly don't advocate putting yourself in danger, but, I promise you, even the smallest kindness goes a long way.

Second, if someone's doing something suspicious, like buying 2 rifles and 400 rounds of ammo, like this alleged Twilight shooter, call the authorities, like his mother did.  Even if it turns out to be nothing, you could end up saving lives.

Third - well, third would be me talking about gun control laws, and if you've read this post I think it's pretty clear where I stand there.

Finally, GO TO THE MOVIES.  Yeah, I'm taking up the torch that was dropped earlier this summer.  Go to the movies, go to the mall, the grocery store, the library, class, go wherever the hell you want.  Fear is sometimes a useful thing - like, if you come across a bear in the woods, you have every right to be terrified - but it can also hold us back.  If you stop going to movies, if you stop living - well, then, you're giving the people who carry out these crimes with perfect clarity exactly what they want:

Fear and chaos and distrust.

And I, for one, don't want to live in a world where we feed off of those things.  I'd rather live in a weary world, scarred by the past, yes, but willing to move on.  Willing to try to be better, to try to rebuild when it's the last thing that anyone wants to do.

I've seen it happen.  I've seen mourning and sadness, so much mourning and sadness, first hand.  Every year at Virginia Tech those feelings never left our campus.  But every year they weighed down on us a little less.  But that's only because we chose to honor our 32 family members by living the lives that were so unceremoniously ripped from them.  We rebuilt, we're still rebuilding, and I hope the same can be said by the other communities touched by the same tragedies.

So, with that long-winded discourse out of the way, I leave you with my weekend plans.  I'm going to see Pitch Perfect, Wreck-It Ralph, and Breaking Dawn: Part 2 - because, even though Twilight and I might not like each other that much anymore, I've already seen the other movies and am totally willing to sit through two more (and final!) hours of K-Stew making the same face over and over and over.

I have a free small popcorn coupon.  You'd better bet I'm upgrading that to a large for $2 more.

And, hey, maybe you'll join me.  I'll be the one sitting there, smack dab in the middle of the theater, with a the biggest damn bucket of popcorn I can buy.


  1. My cousin was a senior at VA Tech when the shootings happened and I remember being so scared for him. It was a sad day, indeed.

    I agree people need help, everyone needs to be vigilant, we need harsher gun laws and most importantly we need to not let random acts of violence scare us and change us.

    So keep going to those midnight showings. And try not to be too disheartened. There are lots of good things out there in the world, too. Like charities and people paying it forward.

    And rainbows and puppy dogs, too. :)

    1. Oh goodness, I didn't know your cousin was there. I hope he's doing alright!

      I think the most powerful thing I've learned is that it's okay to be sad when tragedies happen - but it's what we do after the sadness has taken hold, how we choose to either rebuild and unite or stay separated and cut-off that counts most. Seeing the way my Hokie Nation banded together, refusing to be changed in a negative way, is something that I'll always remember (and further confirmation that I made the right choice!).

      And I will keep going to midnight showings :) they're the best! I have yet to become super disheartened with the world, mostly because of the things you mentioned (but especially because of puppies and rainbows haha)and I'm a HUGE fan of random acts of kindness :)