Friday, September 21, 2007


Sometimes you wonder where you'll find inspiration–your art or your story–and you're so busy looking for it that you're surprised when it finds you. That's the way I felt this afternoon in Clement Park as Duncan and I passed through the baseball quad and worked our way up the walk toward Rebel Hill. I was surprised to discover a fleet of news crews in vans and trucks and even one or two helicopters hovering overhead. I hardly noticed that the memorial was finally open.

My Columbine story, as insignificant as it really is, began on that morning in April in 1999 while I was sitting at my desk at CDW. Ken and I were leaving for Denver the next morning and while I was killing time between editing a couple of magazine ads, I went online and saw the report on Yahoo News. Something terrible had happened in Littleton. The magnitude of the horror was something I still can't comprehend, but I remember thinking, "On choir tour in 1989 I sang at that school. I stood right there."

The next morning, after checking into our room at the downtown Denver Holiday Inn, we walked the 16th Street Mall and saw for ourselves the impact Columbine had on this community. An enormous card, the length of a city block, had been set up and people were standing, three and four deep, waiting to sign it, their hands trembling, tears in their eyes and on their cheeks. Everywhere we looked we saw the same dazed expressions; no one could believe it happened here.

Needless to say, it was a terrible time to visit Denver. We could not have picked a less enjoyable weekend to check out our new home. There was no escaping it, not in the restaurants over lunch, not in the bars and clubs, or at the zoo, not in our hotel room. Even on our way out of town we passed Al Gore's motorcade leaving the airport as it made its way toward Littleton. It wasn't until we were home that we felt relieved of the weight of the tragedy.

Shortly afterward I was speaking to my father on the phone, explaining that I'd just returned from Denver and that I was considering moving there.

"Whew, Denver," he sighed, in that radio announcer's sigh of his. "That must've been tough, and not very fun I bet."

I thought for a moment, as I often do when speaking to my father. "You know, it was an incredible experience," I began. "It was horrible and you're right, it wasn't any fun, the whole city was grieving, but I got to see that. I got to see that community pull together, was able to witness the grief and the comfort they imparted on one another and it was an amazing thing to be a part of."

Our strengths and virtues are not tested in times of peace and silence; they are tested by crisis and cacophony and Denver and Littleton passed that test. This city certainly doesn't want to be remembered because of Columbine, but it doesn't want the rest of the world to forget either. If it can happen here–in this middle-class Mormon community–it can happen anywhere.

That April day as I read about the shootings I had no idea that I'd soon live half a block away from the school, which Duncan and I occasionally walk around. It's always held this strange awe for me because something so terrible happened there and yet it looks like any ordinary school. The kids I see arriving in the morning look like any regular high school kids. Passing the front doors and moving around toward the library side, where most of the true horrors occurred, has always made me catch my breath.

This afternoon as Duncan and I entered the memorial, which won't look truly beautiful until the spring when the grass and the flowers come in, I experienced a new feeling. All around me were the actual families and friends of victims, I was surrounded by students who'd had to run for their lives. As I walked around the wall and read some of the selected quotes that had been mounted on plaques, I felt my awe of the building and the shootings fade, replaced by awe of the people and their ability to grieve and then find a place for their grief as they returned to their lives. It was overwhelming and as we left I couldn't help but cry. It felt good to be there and felt like this community, where so much anger is to be expected, has found a way to forgive.

"Hatred never ceases by hatred; by love alone it is healed. This is the timeless and eternal law. Forgiveness is primarily for our own sake, so that we no longer carry the burden of resentment. Our hearts are already heavy enough."
The Gatekeeper
(Columbine High School Memorial)

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