I have lived in Colorado since 1968 and I cannot remember a more difficult year for our community than 2012. The summer wildfires across our state, and Waldo Canyon in the Springs in particular, made us all realize that disaster often lurks in the shadows and is never far away. As days turned to weeks and smoke lingered over us we donated to charities and tried to take care of friends and loved ones whose lives have been forever changed. We prayed for the victims and thanked God we weren’t in the path of the flames.
Then came the horrific Aurora theater shootings and who among us didn’t wonder if you could be safe anywhere? Losing your life at a movie, how is that even possible? We heard the terrible stories of panic that touched everyone in the theater that night and wondered how heroic, or scared, we would have been in the same situation. Thousands came to the scene hoping their own eyes would show them something different than what they saw on television. A mass shooting couldn’t happen in Colorado again, but it did and we donated to charities, tried to take care of loved ones, and we prayed for the victims and thanked God that we had been spared this horror.
Now today comes news that the most innocent and fragile of us, a child who simply was walking to meet friends on the way to school, has been taken from the ones she loved in the most awful way imaginable. I cannot shake the sickness in my stomach over how scared Jessica must have been. As a parent your worst fear is that something will happen to your children and no one should have to bear the burden of that loss. None among us can understand just how suffocating the pain must be unless we’ve been through it ourselves. We will donate to charities set up in Jessica’s name, try to explain the unexplainable to our children and thank God the evil that took Jessica from her family didn’t come to our door.
As I’ve been trying to get my head around this today I keep wondering, what happens when you’ve cried so much there are no tears left? How many times can your heart break? How do you get over this? We may not have been directly touched by tragedy this summer but we surely have been changed as witnesses to it. I know I’m different because my first thought is no longer, “Oh that’s horrible”, it’s “What’s next?” 13 people have been murdered participating in two of the most common things we do, walking to school and going to the movies. You get a sense that our community collectively wonders, “How much more can we take?”
Well, through all of this we’ve shown that we can take a lot. When the wildfires were burning people opened their homes to strangers and gave them shelter, made donations to the Red Cross and other charities and tried to ease the burden of losing homes and possessions. After the shooting in Aurora we saw millions of dollars being donated to victims support funds and mental health professionals offered counseling to anyone affected by the tragedy. When Jessica Ridgeway was reported missing hundreds offered to assist in the search and hundreds others gathered at a vigil for her. In churches in every corner of the state people knelt in prayer that peace might come to those who suffered. This summer has sucked, no doubt about it. But through the tears we have seen how good people can be. I’m reminded of a song by Richard Gillard called the Servant Song that says, “I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh, I'll laugh with you. I will share your joy and sorrow, till we've seen this journey through.” We have work to do to heal the hurt and shake some of our fear but we’ll get there. When one of us suffers, we all suffer and we’ll recover the only way we can. Together.