It’s Sunday afternoon and my husband and I did something we’ve done countless other times on a Sunday afternoon: we went to the movies.
We had tickets to the new Batman movie, which opened 2 days ago. Our friend bought them days before its opening on Friday. I had been looking forward to seeing this movie for weeks and was so excited about the fact that we were going to be able to see it on its opening weekend.
Then, Friday morning came and so did the news of the horrible shooting in Aurora, Colorado. A twenty-four-year-old graduate student had gone into a movie theater packed with people about 20 minutes after midnight and begun to shoot people indiscriminately. He had been heavily armed and dressed in balletic battle gear. And he had just opened fire on the audience of a midnight screening of the new Batman movie. The rampage left more than seventy people shot, twelve people dead and an untold number of people permanently wounded-physically, emotionally and psychologically.
To call this maniac’s actions senseless violence is redundant and a wasted use of words. To me, all violence is senseless, brutal and insane. Nonetheless, we humans are wired to continually try to make sense of many things that are ultimately without any explanation, sense or reason. So, the last couple of days have been deluged by countless reports about this mass murderer’s background, hometown, subjects of studies in school and his manner and character before the hell he unleashed on hundreds of innocent people.
As hours went by and I tried to get a grip on my emotions, a personal decision had to be made: did I still want to go to the movies on Sunday to to see this movie after what had happened in Colorado? The wisdom of life having to go on kept swirlling around in my mind. “Life must go on. We cannot shrink away from living because of the actions of a few ruthless and violent people.” So, after some thinking, I chose to keep our plans and decided to go to the movie as planned.
Life must go on. I find this idea to be very practical and a little ruthless. There have been multiple times in my life when I’ve been faced with such deep and all-consuming personal sadness and loss that I’ve felt my having to keep going as a very cruel responsibility. “How can I go on when my heart is breaking?” I’ve heard myself ask that question several times in life. When 9/11 happened, I felt such sense of guilt at the notion of moving on that it felt easier not to have to. But, it is human instinct to survive, thrive and carry on in the face of unfathomable tragedy- and I was schooled in that lesson thoroughly when I managed to celebrate and feel true joy on my wedding day, just three weeks after the death of my own father. So we get knocked down and dragged under, but in time we get up and keep going on with the business of living our lives.
The fact that life keeps going no matter what happens feels very sad to me, but I also find comfort in it. For I know that I am capable of surviving a broken heart and much more over and over and over to get up again, to begin again and to be capable of experiencing joy and feeling alive again and again and again.
Today, as I went into the movie theater, I felt happy and normal-giving very little thought to that heavy sadness I’ve been feeling ever since Friday morning. I found my seat, got comfortable in it and dug into my popcorn, seemingly oblivious to all the anguish, confusion and apprehension of the past couple of days.
Then, the theater lights dimmed, the music swelled and the movie began. And there, in the dark, all I could think of was that I was watching what twelve people watched just before they were brutally killed. I was gripped with the sense of fear I imagined them to have felt and the sheer thought of their violent and terrorizing deaths ran my blood cold.
I became mesmerized by the glowing green EXIT sign above a door visible from my seat. Their murderer had come in through a door similar to the one I was staring at. Its green glow captured my gaze, washing me in devastating sadness. I felt moistness in my eyes, and realized my tears were streaming uncontrollably down my face. About 20 minutes into the movie, I marked the time I imagined when the terror had begun in a dark and cold theater similar to the one I was in. I sent my love and empathy out into the ether toward the victims who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The new Batman is a violent, loud, spectacular and long movie. It runs two and half hours long and it explodes with violence and noise every few minutes, if not seconds. The audience around me cheered, clapped, even laughed, and seemed completely engrossed in the movie for the entirety of the time. Life was going on all around me, and yet I could not drag my mind away from the audience in that movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Life had stood still where I was sitting.
Finally, once the movie was over, when the credits began to roll, I had to accept that despite all my fears, the door with the glowing green EXIT sing never opened. And that was when I let go of my composure, dropped my brave face, slumped into my seat and let a sea of tears flow out of me. I and my fellow audience members had just finished seeing a movie, just like thousands of other movies we’ve seen in movie theaters throughout our lives. We had just finished watching something 200 people in Aurora, Colorado never got a chance to finish. Life was going on and I felt crushed by its weight and movement.
There are many lessons and wisdoms here- life is precious, unpredictable, short and uncertain, and we must keep living and making the best of the time we’ve been given. But, today, my heart aches for those who did something as ordinary as going to the movies, but never got a chance to go home to their loved ones. Today, my heart is sad for those whose lives were cut short in a dark movie theater in the early hours of Friday. Today, I’m preoccupied by the thoughts of those whose lives have been permanently changed. Today, I just feel sad.
In memory of the victims of the Aurora, CO shooting and their family and loved ones.