I live in Seattle but spent last week in Colorado. Like most people, I awoke Friday to the news, tuning in to find out what in the world had happened. The senselessness of the tragedy made me mad; the pain for the victims and their families made me sad. The waste of human life left me with a feeling of profound despair. The rest of the weekend, I found myself avoiding the news. The last thing I wanted to see was one more story about the shooter. When I got home on Saturday, the only thing I wanted to see were the faces of my wife and kids. We spent the rest of the weekend doing family things and I found myself disconnecting from media altogether.
But weekends don't last; Monday has a way of arriving whether you want it to or not. So, I got up, got online and started checking out the news. I had just steeled myself to the inevitability of a return to the Colorado story when I found myself drawn in instead of repulsed. This story was not about alleged shooter James Holmes; this story was about Jon Blunk.
Jon Blunk and his girlfriend, Jansen Young, were at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. When the tear gas and ammunition rounds started going off, Jon took action. "He knew and threw me on the ground, and was like 'We have to get down and stay down.'" During the utter insanity that ensued, Jon remained clear of purpose; he used his body to shield Jansen, repeatedly pushing her deeper under the seats to provide as much protection as possible. Through her fear that each new round would bring death, Jansen felt Jon's arms holding her until, at one point, the pressure of those arms ceased. "I didn't really feel his arms against my back anymore but I knew he was still there," Jansen said. His body was still there, but Jon was dead. "And I know, even though he saved me, and he gave me the opportunity to live, he would have done it for anyone that day."
When tragedies like this hit the news cycle, it is often the horror that is most glaring. Sometimes it takes longer for the quieter triumphs of the human spirit to be seen. All weekend it was like I'd been holding my breath, waiting for that small triumph within the tragedy. Then, I read about Jon and Jansen and found myself exhaling in relief.
I went on to read about Matt McQuinn, who, like Jon Blunt, gave no regard for his own life as he shielded his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, from the carnage. These two young men gave up their lives so those they loved might survive. Reading about their sacrifice made me realize that something else, something personal, also survived because of what they did: my belief and reliance on the triumph of the human spirit amidst tragedy. When all I could see was the shooter, despair won out. In despair, I didn't want to read one more thing about the so-called Theatre Massacre, but I realize now I needed to. I needed to keep reading, keep looking, keep patiently waiting for the stories of Jon Blunt and Matt McQuinn.
I don't know why James Holmes did what he allegedly did. I've heard speculation it was for notoriety. In defiance, people in Colorado, including Governor John Hickenlooper, are refusing to speak his name. "In my house" the governor said," we're just going to call him Suspect A."
If I had let the shooter and the despair he invokes win, I would have turned my back and shut my ears to Jon Blunt and Matt McQuinn. Their voices must be heard. Their priorities, their humanity continues to speak through their actions. Their message of hope is the one that needs to survive long after the name of the suspected shooter fades from memory.
For more by Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., click here.
For more on the spirit, click here.