Aurora “Batman” Shooting: Processing Tragedy

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful an experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

As you have all likely heard, a deranged young man opened fire on a theater full of innocent people at a midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” early yesterday morning in Aurora, Colorado. Living in big cities, I’ve been no stranger to local tragedies, but this one hit pretty close to home.

I’ve been a giant Batman nerd since I can remember. What’s not to love? He is a privileged man who understands that not everyone was dealt the same hand and uses his wealth for the betterment of society. He believes so strongly in humanity that he risks his life to save strangers and refuses to murder anyone. Plus, he doesn’t even have any actual superpowers—he’s just an incomparable badass with a slew of ridiculously cool gadgets. I’m getting off topic.

Anyone who really knows me assumed I’d be attending one of the midnight screenings of the newest film from our generation’s Scorsese—Christopher Nolan. The second July rolled around, I was bursting at the seams in anticipation, and by the night of the premiere, I was pee-my-pants excited. This week, I went online to purchase advance tickets for myself and five of my friends. Of course, all the IMAX showings were sold out, so I went to buy regular tickets at the theater close to my house. It was also sold out. Knowing I had to work in Aurora that night, the next theater I considered was the Century 16 theater where the shooting took place. It was perfect, because I didn’t get off work until 11pm, and I knew

Dark Knight Rises Shooting Ribbon Image Mark Rantal

Image courtesy Mark Rantal

people would be in line as early as 8pm, dressed to the nines as Batman and his villains, and I wanted to get to the theater as quickly as possible. I was frustrated when I didn’t find Century 16 in a list of available theaters near me, presumably because it, too, had sold out. I begrudgingly chose the downtown theater—the first one I could find that wasn’t sold out, and fretted all day about being late for the film because, for Christ’s sake, it was a half hour drive from work!

We loved the movie. It was everything I wanted to be, and well-worth the obnoxious amount of anticipation I’d built around its four-years-in-the-making release. When we left the theater, we were all high on the impressiveness of it, feverishly discussing our favorite parts, what we predicted, didn’t see coming, didn’t like as much. Strangers stopped me to ask for my thoughts on it. I only barely noticed that there were about three policemen per half block surrounding the theater. Since I was walking back to my car alone and, in true Bailey fashion, wasn’t sure just exactly where I parked it, I only remember being subconsciously thankful for their unusual presence. As promised, I sent a text to a friend at work, who’d been jealous I was going and wanted to know RIGHT AWAY just how awesome the movie was. In response, she sent a fevered message that there’d been a horrible shooting in Aurora and instructed me to go directly home. She hadn’t mentioned that it took place in a theater showing the very movie my friends and I had just been gushing over, while we were enjoying it. When I “Googled” the shooting and found out, I felt like throwing up.

I did, indeed, go straight home, and promptly sent a message to my parents letting them know the horrible news they’d be hearing when they woke up, that I’d been unable to get tickets to that theater, and that my friends and I were all just fine. But we weren’t, really. Those of us who found out right away didn’t sleep much. We still haven’t. We all woke up on Friday to a ridiculous, but comforting, amount of texts, voicemails, tweets and Facebook messages asking desperately, “Tell me you didn’t go to that theater!,” and “Are you okay?” One of my friends fell asleep with her phone on silent, and her parents were nervous wrecks when she finally got a hold of them. I don’t know that any of us had been so close to such an awful event that it would incite panic even in friends we hadn’t spoken to in over a year.

My coworkers offered sighs of relief, sympathy, and lots of questions when I reported to work the next day, greeted by enhanced security, police, road blocks, and the crime scene that is Holmes’ apartment right across the street. Another friend was evacuated from her workplace, because Holmes had access to those buildings less than a month ago. One student nurse was beside himself, saying things like “Man, that could’ve been you! Like, you could not be here right now!” When I talked about how guilty I would’ve felt dragging my friends there for the selfish reason of making my commute shorter, he replied, “You can’t feel guilt if you’re dead.”

Insensitive, yes. Big time. But also true. Slowly finding out that people we knew, friends of friends, and colleagues had been victims, or had been brought to our hospital—that we could see his apartment from our building—made the situation all the more surreal. A friend of a friend, whom I’d just seen the night before, was shot and in critical condition. We could have been—almost were—there in that theater, but these people—real people we knew, lived next to, interacted with—they were there. I don’t think any of us has wrapped our mind around how horrible and terrifying that experience could have been. How much those people’s lives will change, if they were lucky enough to make it through. How lucky we are that we didn’t go to my first choice theater.

Even people who hadn’t seen the movie were struggling with questions like, “why?” and “how?” This type of thing rattles the entire country, even the world. The makers of the film cancelled international openings and put out very tactful and empathetic statements about the situation, now being called the Dark Knight Rises shooting. But for those of us who live here, who frequent that theater, who may have worked next to the victims or even the perpetrator, it just doesn’t seem real. People’s lives were ended or changed because they went about the simple task of seeing a movie. They went with probably as much excitement to see the film as I had. Some initially thought Holmes’ antics were a part of the show. People lived or died based on their choice of movie theater. It just doesn’t make any sense.

This post probably doesn’t serve as anything more than my own processing of a horrible tragedy that I almost was a part of, but wasn’t, but I hope what happened affects you. My mom says it was by the Grace of God that I wasn’t there. I don’t know how I feel about that—why, then, would God let it happen to everyone else? I normally believe in karma, but no one in that theater deserved that to happen. I normally believe that everything happens for a reason, but how can what happened possibly be made to seem reasonable? Jen, who was with me, probably said it best. “We just weren’t meant to be there. I was just so thankful waking up this morning…” She didn’t mean that anyone was meant to be there, just that we weren’t there and that, while we are horrified about what happened to those other people, we can and should feel blessed and humbled that it didn’t happen to us. Because it could have happened to us. It could have happened to anyone.

I hope that all this makes people think—really think about how they live their lives, how they treat people, and what they take for granted. I didn’t cry until I was on my way home from work last night. It just came over me, and for the half-hour drive, I was an inconsolable mess. I don’t know if I’ve said “I love you” or talked to as many old friends in one day as I did when I finally came out of my half-sleep, half-dream haze on Friday morning. Maybe we should all do those things a little more often. Maybe we should all stop living like we’re entitled to another day and remember how short and unpredictable life is. I hope people are reminded of the value and fleetingness of life and learn to be more appreciative of what they have. I hope we all stop worrying about petty things, like how long it will take to get to the movie theater, because maybe those little inconveniences, like mine, are blessings in disguise.  I hope people give blood, go to candlelight vigils, and offer whatever support they can, even if it’s just prayer, thoughts, kind words, or being respectful and quietly understanding of the grief in our community.

What I hope people stop doing is immediately politicizing or piously analyzing the situation or why it may have happened. We don’t know why it happened. You all likely know how my “hippie-pacifist-ass” feels about violence and guns, and you know how unapologetically opinionated I am. But now is not the time. We don’t know how we would have reacted to the situation, or if it was possible to stop it. I hope we all really think about that. I hope the rumors aren’t true, and Westboro Baptist Church realizes how ungodly, un-Christian, and

One guy in the crowd could have saved everyone SICK photo

Disgusting.

inhuman it is to protest the memorial services for the victims of the situation. If they fail to accept this, as they so often do, I hope the better people of the world will again show up to outnumber them and support the victims’ families. I hope people who use nothing but Facebook as a soap box or their efforts to “enact change” stop posting those insensitive photos of a man with a gun in his pants saying, “One guy in the crowd could have saved everyone last night.” It’s as sick as it is ignorant. There was a guy with a gun, and he murdered and injured damn near 100 people.

You weren’t there. By chance, neither was I. We don’t know what we would have done, even if we had a gun. We don’t know that some people in that theater didn’t make some heroic attempt to save another person, or if it would have even been possible. We also don’t know what drove Holmes to do this, or whether gun control would have stopped him. We are in no position to make judgments or pose “what-ifs” that do nothing but pour salt in already blistering emotional wounds.  We have no idea, and we have no right to spout off our cocky opinions from our safe little seats on the other side. These people experienced real tragedy.

This isn’t about politics. It’s not about Republicans and Democrats, or who’s right. Not now. This isn’t about you. This isn’t about me and my friends, or the people who could’ve been there, and it isn’t about religion. It’s bigger than that. This is about good and evil. This is about the people in that theater whose lives either ended or changed forever. It’s about their families and their shock, agony, and confusion over what happened. This is about the family of James Holmes—a grown, independent man who acted of his own accord, and the hurt they’ll nonetheless have to deal with over what their troubled son has done.

In a few days, or several, we can talk about gun control or the nature of our country. We can and should work together to look at solutions to problems like this, as long as we look at real solutions over taking political sides. But that horrible day, today, and the next couple of weeks should be reserved for grieving, understanding and support. They should be about community and Holmes’ trial and making sense of what happened. Because that’s just it—we still don’t have all our questions answered, and some of them probably never will be. We don’t know what happened or why, and until we do, even the experts are in no position to analyze the country’s problems and possible solutions. And we, my friends, are no experts. So please, just show some compassion for the people connected to this awful tragedy and save the politics, the arguing, and the stubborn opinions for later. If you feel, as I do, totally helpless, that there’s nothing you can do to help, remember, you can keep your political opinions to yourself. You can quietly show solidarity and support. You can do that.

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23 Lessons | In 23 Years

Something I wrote before my 23rd birthday.

I’ve seen this done a few times, and with my birthday coming up in the year of “me,” I decided to jump on the bandwagon. Where I used to fear getting older, I now have feelings of gratitude and accomplishment for surviving another year. Yeah, that means I AM getting old. But, I’m rather giddy where I am today, and so I’ve decided to impart a few lessons I’ve learned (probably the hard way) that helped me get here over the past 23 years (or, you know, however long it’s been since I could talk and pee in a toilet).

23.) Force yourself out of your comfort zone. You’ll be amazed how much you learn.

22.) Money is a necessary evil, but there are more important things. Save a little for a rainy day, and spend the rest on experiences instead of possessions. I promise you’ll remember your impromptu road trip more than that unreasonably priced dress you wore on your birthday three years ago.

21.) Never let anyone take you for granted. If they don’t appreciate you, they don’t deserve to be in your life.

20.) You should, in fact, care what’s going on around you. Read the news, and volunteer once in a while. It’s not going to kill you, but it may just save someone else.

19.) If you mean it, say it.

18.) Winning and losing are often simply matters of perspective. Actually, a lot of things are.

17.) You will never learn more about yourself and what you want than when you have to walk alone for a little while. Never let anyone else define who you are—and never let them make you forget it.

16.) “No one is irreplaceable” = false. Some bridges are worth rebuilding. You’ll know when the other person is willing to meet you halfway.

15.) It’s all right to remain a “kid at heart”—in fact, I encourage it. But you have to learn to be a grown-up when it really counts.

14.) Beer and pizza with a great friend is the best therapy there is.

13.) Music—tangible evidence that someone, somewhere, sometime felt exactly as you’re feeling, and lived to tell the tale—can be as comforting as any religion.

12.) The most important, loveable, and inspirational things about the people who surround us are the things that make them different. Respect that. Appreciate that.

11.) Look on the bright side, and laugh at yourself. No matter what happens or how low you get—never lose your sense of humor.

10.) Everyone deserves another chance. Forgiveness is difficult, but liberating—the mark of a strong person. Grudges are easy, but heavy—they’ll only leave you cold.

9.) There are so many things about life over which we have no control. The past can’t be changed, nor the future certain. Only when you recognize and accept this can you actually live your life for all it’s worth.

8.) There isn’t just one person on this earth who is meant for you; be happy there are many. Love is not what Disney says it is, and often it isn’t enough. The white picket fence isn’t worth the torture of staying in a toxic relationship.

7.) Nobody’s indestructible. Be there for other people, but don’t forget to let them be there for you.

6.) Never regret anything. Make as many mistakes as possible, learn from them, let go, move on, repeat.

5.) Trust your instincts and don’t fear spontaneity. Some of my craziest decisions were the best I’ve ever made.

4.) There are no inherently bad people; only bad choices and bad circumstances. Everyone in this world does the best they can with the cards they’re dealt, and we all lose our way once in a while. Don’t be so quick to judge.

3.) You can’t please everyone—caring about what other people think of you is a horrible waste of time. Be good, but be yourself—and own it. If they don’t like it, forget ‘em.

2.) There is a difference between compromise and sacrifice.  Never.  Ever.  Settle.

1.) Life really is short. Live accordingly. When we lose someone we love, we realize how much we allow ourselves to worry about trivial things. Always remind yourself what’s truly important and what won’t really matter in the end.

Well? Agree, disagree? Anything to add?

Iowa Legislature “Turning Back the Clock” on Equal Rights

Once on the forefront of civil rights, Iowa has long been a leader in advocating not only social justice, but fair and proper practice of the law. To turn back the clock on gay rights is to destroy the legacy of the legally progressive state that first allowed a woman to practice law; a state that allowed slaves their freedom and desegregated schools before the president or Supreme Court did. Iowa protected the rights of its citizens not in response to public outcry, but because it was the right thing to do.

Perhaps people back then understood why the Constitution set apart a judicial branch—the only branch not subject to special interest money or arbitrary political climates. I think it’s safe to say that few people would argue to overturn the aforementioned decisions, and the velocity with which House Study Bill 50 failed may be proof of that. It is appalling to me, however, that Iowa helped Bob Vander Plaats delegitimize the important role of such defenders of justice.

That is not to say the courts are perfect. There are countless court opinions with which I wholeheartedly disagree. But throwing money (nearly $1 million, to be exact) at an issue and frightening justices across the country out of doing the duties they were appointed to perform corrupts the judiciary at a basic level. That’s the type of fear-mongering the anti-justice campaign spread last November, and that our legislators are furthering by attempting, out of intolerance and anger, to write discrimination into a constitution which is wittingly difficult to amend. And if the legal implications aren’t enough, try another perspective.

Where civil rights are concerned, the argument is not solely an issue of law and order. In Varnum v. Brien, the court did what it deemed appropriate according to established law, but when the people get involved, it no longer remains a rational battle. While you debate your stance on same-sex unions consider this: this isn’t an all-business case like campaign spending and, at a humanistic level, it isn’t just about marriage. It’s about people’s lives. It’s about the equal right to create and protect a family, not just because the Constitution says you can, but because it is reprehensible to stare another human being in the face and tell them they don’t deserve the life you were afforded, just because they are different or because some actor in a well-funded commercial tells you they’re wrong.

Iowa voters had a chance to vote for a constitutional convention and move forward to ban gay marriage last fall, but they chose not to by an overwhelming margin. The House resolution proposing a gay-marriage ban is equally likely to fail in the end, but the hateful rhetoric surrounding this issue must stop. Whether you look at it from a legal standpoint or an emotional one, I urge public officials and the people of Iowa to focus on the struggling economy rather than 1950’s-era discriminatory legislation. I urge you to uphold Iowa’s forward-thinking legacy and stand up for one another, in the spirit of democracy or compassion, so that perhaps the next time someone asks me where I’m from, I can once again be proud to say “I’m from Iowa.”

See this article published in my alma mater’s newspaper, The Simpsonian.

Moment of Sincerity: Spread the Love

Note: Another pre-DADT Repeal post.

Nearly half a century has passed since President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and our nation has made great progress toward equality since then. It would be easy to think that, in the 21st Century, discrimination is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. According to a recent FBI report, more than 6,600 hate crimes were reported in the United States in 2009, 90% of which were related to race, religion, or sexual orientation. Hate crimes here in Colorado have increased by 25% since 2008.

Sarah Silverman: They Learned it From You

The epidemic of suicides among gay teens as a result of bullying is all the harrowing proof one needs that hate is still alive and well in today’s society. But many believe that bullying in schools isn’t the only thing to blame for the pressure that drove nearly half a dozen teens to take their own lives this fall. Considering the recent failure of a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, the verbal abuse toward LGBT communities by religious groups and public officials, and the failure by those in power to protect the citizens of this country from discrimination, it’s easy to see where those bullies may have learned to hate homosexuals.

In Iowa, the National Organization for Marriage funneled nearly one million dollars into a campaign to oust threejustices up for a retention vote, because they were part of the unanimous landmark Varnum v. Brien decision which legalized gay marriage in the state. In North Carolina, members of the Westboro Baptist church protested at the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards, holding signs that said things like “God Hates Fags,” and “Thank God for Breast Cancer.”

In Washington, a defense bill that would end the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was killed by Republicans before it even made it to the floor. This is the second time Senate Republicans have blocked the bill, despite an extensive Pentagon study which showed that an end to the policy would not harm the military, a call from the President and the military’s joint chiefs of staff to repeal it, and the fact that 67% of Americans support the repeal.

In addition, a recent study by Yale University showed that gay and lesbian youth are more frequently and more harshly punished in school and legal systems than their straight counterparts. What are we telling our young people when we allow our own children, educators, public defenders, and elected officials to send hateful messages of discrimination and unequal treatment on a regular basis? We cannot continue treating our LGBT neighbors as second-class citizens. This type of behavior is not only immoral and unconstitutional, but it is also putting all of our youth in grave danger by teaching them that it is okay to hate or mistreat those who are different from them.

It’s a terrifying travesty of justice that such inequality and ill-treatment of American citizens is allowed to continue in the 21st Century. But it isn’t all bad news: there is hope. NOM chose the wrong battle, and though they took away those justices’ jobs, gay marriage is still legal in the state of Iowa. At the Edwards funeral, as with most Westboro protests, the picketers were overwhelmingly outnumbered by counter-protesters with messages of hope and love. The American attitude toward LGBT issues is rapidly shifting toward acceptance and understanding. It’s up to us to continue this positive change.

After all we’ve been through to get to the 21st Century as a fair and civilized society, it should be a given that all men (and women) truly are created equal, and that there is no place in our educational or legal systems for this kind of hatred and discrimination. I call on each of you to remember people like Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, and other gay teens who may feel so afraid and alone that they’ve considered taking their own lives. I encourage you to stand with gay soldiers and thank them for their service by contacting public officials to show support for a DADT repeal. There are things that you can do to ensure that gay teens and adults alike find help, support, and love this holiday season.

Support equality-based organizations in your community, and help educate others on these types of issues. Tell your school board how important it is to make our schools safe for all of our children. Call your Senators and Congressmen, and ask that those who risk their lives for our safety be allowed to serve openly. Share your understanding with fellow community members. Most importantly, let the children of the world know that they are the future; that they are loved and supported no matter who they are; and that there is hope for a safer, better world for them, if they only stick around long enough to find it.

Gay Rights Lost the Battle, But Can Still Win The War

“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.” – George Washington

Note: This is a pre-DADT Repeal post from another blog.

Despite the best efforts of President Obama, gay rights activists, and Lady Gaga Herself, Senate Democrats in support of the Defense Reauthorization Bill failed to enact broad legislation which would, among other things, successfully repeal the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. But Tuesday’s close 56-43 vote, while disappointing, does not mean the endof the modern gay rights movement.

In fact, it seems almost a mere bump in the long but increasingly successful road to equality that supporters have been actively paving for decades. Just within the last year, activists have gained high-status lobbying partners, public officials have begun to show more outward support for equal rights, and there has been a significant shift in public opinion toward LGBT issues.

In 2009, Iowa became a catalyst as the third state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire quickly followed suit, bringing the count to six states in which same-sex couples can legally wed. The District of Columbia also came on board, and began performing marriages earlier this year. Most of these decisions were followed by a commanding backlash, but while many states were rushing to amend their constitutions to prohibit gay marriage, several others were passing civil union and domestic partnership laws, granting gay couples the same rights provided to straight married couples.

And that’s just the beginning. In 2006, Arizona (home of such staunch conservatives as John McCain and Jan Brewer) became the first state in which a constitutional ban on gay marriage failed by popular vote. Though California’s ballot initiative, the infamous Proposition 8, was successfully passed, activists everywhere were celebrating last month when a Reagan/Bush-appointed federal judge struck down the law, declaring it unconstitutional.

Just one month earlier, a different federal judge invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal statute which dictated that only male to female marriages could be legally recognized. Then, a few short weeks ago, yet another federal judge declared the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy an unconstitutional infringement upon the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian soldiers. The momentum from this landmark decision prompted activists across the country to call for a legislative repeal of the policy, even garnering outspoken support from Lady Gaga, one of the world’s most recognized celebrities.

All of these steps toward equality have, however, also forced the hand of faith-based organizations and interest groups. In the past several months, coalitions of Catholics and other institutes of faith have poured money into the National Organization for Marriage, which, in turn, has funneled the cash into various efforts to fight back against these marriage decisions. The organization dropped almost a quarter of a million dollars in Iowa alone, producing massive ad campaigns against the justices who handed down the unanimous decision.

These organizations also have allies in many public officials, including hard-liner conservatives like Senator John McCain. Allies who, on Tuesday, filibustered into submission any chance at a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, proving that the gay rights movement is still very much an uphill battle. But while those citizens who oppose gay marriage are still in the majority, studies by the PEW research forum show that the gap is narrowing. Over the last ten years, support for legalization has increased by 10%, and those who support civil unions are in an even larger majority than those who oppose gay marriage. So, while the gay rights movement is still met by serious religious opposition, the growing force behind it and the marked shift in public opinion shows that this fight is not a lost cause. Not even close.