Do you remember what you were doing 15 years ago?
Fast forward a few months and I was a 17-year-old junior, sitting in Columbine High School's library, leafing through Time Magazine. My padded armchair presented a stunning view of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains as I passively read about the one year anniversary of a school shooting in a town called Jonesboro. Jarring and incomprehensible, I couldn't understand how anyone could intentionally plan out and execute an unprovoked attack on innocent children. Disturbingly, less than a month later, this ironic reality reared its ugly head when similar terrors were unleashed in the room where I sat.
Good intentioned, I've heard counselors say Columbine was significant because it was the first. Columbine may have been the first to play out on national television, but there were others before like Cleveland Elementary in Stockton, California or Dunblane Primary School in Scotland. There have been more than 20 incidents since Columbine -- school shootings that today, unfold in real-time for the rest of us via Tweets and status updates.
It's offensive that anyone brings a gun to address a problem, let alone to a school. Regardless of the who, what and where, survivors experience the same terror, grief and multi-year healing process. Meanwhile the media and agenda setters stir up questions around gun control and mental illness that go unanswered with inconsequential change.
We were supposed to be the last, but in-school violence continues to grab headlines. Keeping an eye on my Twitter feed, Arapahoe High became the latest school to play host to a troubled student who brought a gun to school. Arapahoe's seniors were four years old when the Columbine High School shootings happened in 1999, just eight miles away.
With Arapahoe, Columbine and last year's theater shooting in Aurora, many on social media have questioned if there's something in Colorado's water that makes it more prone to mass killings. I don't think so. If anything, Colorado breeds mentally strong people of faith who don't spend too much time feeling sorry for themselves. Believing in a bigger purpose for our lives, we respond in a positive way to support eachother when the unthinkable plays out. I've lived all over the country and that's a standard commonality among most of the people I've met.
"However bewildering this all may be, these afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life," said LDS apostle Jeffrey Holland. "Believe in miracles, hope is never lost. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental and kind."
Intimately familiar with the heavy emotions and questions stemming from a school shooting, through therapeutic writing, I feel compelled to publish my thoughts whenever an all too close to home incident occurs. This helps me give meaning to the meaningless and hopefully can validate another's experience as they travel the unfamiliar road for the first time. Importantly, first time sufferers of trauma need to debrief in a meaningful way.
"People have a tendency to feel like they should be able to handle things on their own, but healing takes time," said Michelle Lee, a licensed professional clinical counselor. "When it comes to trauma in particular, it's important for people to know that trauma literally changes the brain. A good therapist can help guide us through the healing process, and also help us avoid distorted thinking pitfalls that might slow us down."
There are no definitive answers to end school shootings, but we do get to make the choice to live and to love each day and that makes everything better.