Monday, April 20, 2009

TDIH: Columbine

It doesn't seem possible that ten years have passed since the tragedy at Columbine. Some days in this post 9/11 world it seems a distant memory, a pain since surpassed by that of watching the towers collapse, but on other mornings, mornings like the one when so many awaited news from the campus of Virginia Tech, that awful Spring morning in Colorado is as real and present as any event from yesterday.

As I have thought about the tenth anniversary of the shooting spree at Columbine High School, I've thought a great deal about myself and my classmates. My generation, a group of young adults some of which are now fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, didn't have many carefree days of childhood. The few times I actually remember watching television in a classroom while I was in the public school system included the day the verdict was read in the O.J. Simpson trial; the day Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into their high school armed; and, that bright blue sky morning when this nation was under attack, planes crashing into buildings and one Pennsylvania field. There were other "current events" that I remember we took time out for, events like the Oklahoma City bombing, Magic Johnson's announcement that he was HIV positive, and the launch of the first shuttle Endeavor, but none of those events had us glued to television sets throughout our schools questioning what on earth was happening and if we were safe the way both Columbine and the events on 9/11 did.

I was in my final weeks of junior high school when Columbine became part of America's collective memory. That fall I was to begin high school and it wouldn't surprise me to hear many others in my age group say that they were more scared of moving up into high school than they'd been just weeks before because of what they heard took place at Columbine High School. We all paid much more attention to the attire of others after that, looking out for trench coats and combat boots. We weren't allowed to leave our backpacks unattended in common areas of the school or in the lunchroom any longer. Our writing, art work and general demeanor was scrutinized after Columbine and our generation became far more alert and suspicious than the generation that came before us. For a group of kids who came into the public school systems as Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign was at its peak, drugs were the least of our fears. We feared our own classmates gloom and worried less about being offered any sort of illegal substance.

The cruelty that exists in schools now, the constant bullying and berating, was gone for a time. My classmates and I cared a great deal about the things we said to each other in those days, weeks and months following Columbine. We were far more sensitive to one another and feared the outcome of one hateful remark to a classmate on the edge. It was certainly for the better that we worried about the young adults we were becoming, but I don't think it lasted. As time went on the fears associated with Columbine were dissolved and we fell back into the clicks and typical stereotypes we had prior to the tragedy.

When I think about the impact the Columbine tragedy had on my young psyche, I can attribute that one event to the way I tried throughout high school to not fall into one particular group or another. I tried to be friendly with all of my classmates and tried to never isolate myself. I can certainly attribute Columbine to the solidification of my beliefs and positions on gun control, beliefs and positions that were formed early on by the loss of two relatively close friends to suicide. After Columbine I thought about one of those friends and her mood in the final days of riding the bus to and from school together. Dressed in black and increasingly isolated from those around us, she showed all of the signs, the warning signs that it would take events like Columbine and Virginia Tech to point out to us. She didn't have a TEC-DC-9 like Dylan Klebold and she took her own life instead of the lives of others, but her story and then Columbine made me realize at a very young age how scary guns are and how absolutely dangerous they are in the wrong hands.

I don't mean for this anniversary to serve as a soapbox for the voicing of my opinions on guns and the Second Amendment, I simply mean to point out the tragedies my generation grew up with and the immense influence they had on us. We never really felt safe again after Columbine and unfortunately, 9/11 would put an end to any hope we had of feeling safe ever again. I still think about those kids in the library at Columbine High School and how absolutely afraid they must have been and thank whatever gods there may be that it wasn't me there, cowering in fear.

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