Life is precious. Period. (Updated 7/23)

I’m writing this post full of shock, anger, disbelief, and a million other things that don’t have names but they sting and burn and hurt.

By now, you’ve all heard the news of the Aurora movie theater shooting in Colorado. You’ve probably already heard of Jessica (Redfield) Ghawi, whose last blog post talked about her escaping another shooting to fall victim to this one. And you’ve probably also read some of the incredible memorial posts and tweets (including but not limited to her brother, her boyfriend, several of her many friends, the You Can Play team, and her beloved Vancouver Canucks).

So instead of rehashing that, I’m going to focus on what that has meant for me today.

The awesome Alexis of Aerys Sports wrote a post that articulates a lot of the things I wanted to say about Jessica’s death, especially this:

I didn’t know Jessica personally, but I feel like I did. Her aspirations seem to parallel those of many of the Aerys NHL girls.  Maybe that’s why I can’t get this shooting out of my mind. It could have been any of us and in a way it was all of us.

Jessica wasn’t entirely a stranger to me, but I wouldn’t call us friends either. We’d interacted via email several times over mutual teams and interests, especially You Can Play, but I’d always been a little awed by her so I didn’t dare follow her on Twitter or email too much. I didn’t want to be pushy. And now I regret that because I robbed myself of the chance to get to know her before it was too late.

I have cried today, for her and for 11 others I never got to know. I have sat here in anger and shock and utter confusion. I’m not a violent person and I never advocate for violent “solutions” or reactions, but senseless violence like this really shakes to my core. As I’ve said before, I just can’t understand how people can be so purposefully hurtful–and there is something so much more immediate and jarring about that when we’re talking about displays of physical violence.

When the Virginia Tech happened, my eyes were opened to the fact that I, a graduating senior in high school, was about to move on my own to Chicago and put myself in a place where things like that could conceivably happen on a college campus. When the NIU shooting happened, I spent weeks being afraid every time I walked to and from class. I would sit in class and think of what I would do if a shooter came, where I would hide and how I would pretend to have been shot already so I would be perhaps spared. I thought of my friends and prayed they would have thought of ways to keep themselves safe, too.

I feel like now I have to think about that too when I’m at the mall, or at a movie theater. In my neighborhood, I already think about it when I’m walking home to or from work. I’ve looked for hiding places in every classroom I have ever taught in and every office where I’ve worked. And all I want is a world where I don’t have to think about that.

And then there’s the shooter, whose name I refuse to write.

Seeing his picture was a shock. Many of the other shooters have looked angry, disturbed, hurt–but he looked normal, even nice. My first thought was that, if I didn’t know who he was, this was a guy I would approach and want to get to know. And maybe I still do.

Yes, his actions are INEXCUSABLE. Period. I will not tolerate excuses because I know what it’s like to feel like you will never stop hurting–but I made a conscious choice to turn that pain and that rage towards myself instead of hurting others. I know that that is a choice to be made, and the similarities between him and I end at that point.

But the point where my heart hurts twice as much begins with the sentiment encapsulated in the following tweet:

And, as I have after every single one of these shootings, I wonder if something else could have done for him. Should someone else have reached out? Is it anyone else’s responsibility to find these signs and have them committed or referred to help or something of the sort? The latter is a question I often read today, asking whether the shooter’s mother should be held responsible in any way for his actions.

The short answer, in my experience, is NO. Like I said before, even in the haze of depression there are choices, and he made his own. And while I will agree that it is likely that the system, as well as many people in his life, failed him, no one made the choice for him. No one else bought the ammo and planned and pulled the trigger. There are contributing factors and there may be responsibility to be taken for how he got there–but he walked in there on his own two feet and that was no one’s decision but his own.

Now that I’ve said my piece on this, I want to end with a request posted by Jordan Ghawi, whose strength has been inspiring:

(Clickable link here.) Keep this about the victims and their lives. Keep this about justice and awareness and healing–not about the shooter. He was trying to make a statement, as every other shooter has, and denying him the platform to do so may help us stop others from following his example.

(I will get off my mental health soapbox and end here out of respect for the victims, but there is definitely a post chronicling depression in the works. I’ve been wanting to talk about it for a while, and I think I’m finally ready to do so.)

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