The ink hasn't dried yet in the first newspaper reports, and the teletype that crawls on the bottom of my TV is constantly changing the number of dead and wounded, but it is obvious that a very tragic event took place overnight in Aurora, Colorado, where a gunman opened fire at the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."
Twelve dead, many others wounded. Several were children.
I found myself watching with a heavy heart this morning, listening to the shock in the voices of the Today Show hosts as eye witnesses began to recount the horror of the dark night in a movie theater located in the heart of our country.
The story forces us to painfully recollect events burned in our collective memories... Columbine High School where 12 died in 1999 at the hands of two high school students. Virginia Tech in 2007 when 32 young people and staff died at the hands of a mass murderer.
Six dead and several others injuried, including Representative Gabriella Giffords, in a shopping center parking lot in Arizona, just last year. Oakland, California; Red Lake, Minnesota... The list goes on.
And as usually happens when tragedy strikes, today my Facebook friends are posting wonderfully heartfelt status updates:
"Praying for the people of Aurora, Colorado."
"Hug your kids today."
"Holding my family tight."
Here are a few other tragedies you may or may not have read about. 1,000 children in our country will be physically abused by a parent or stepparent today. Today, 3 women will lose their lives at the hands of an intimate partner. Another 7 will by killed by a casual acquaintance or someone who has selected them randomly. An estimated total of 1,300 young people will die at the hands of another young person in a gun-related incident this year.
I could go on and on, but I won't. You get the point.
What is it about mass murders that emotionally tears us up while we ignore so much tragedy every day? I think it's that the numbers become so overwhelming that they are numbing, and we choose to separate these incidents from what we see as our personal reality.
In the same way that the Aurora killer was said to be aided by the movie attendees' inability to detect real danger in light of the numbing violence on the screen they were watching, we write off single violent deaths as faceless, forgettable, almost inconsequential background stories that will never happen "to us." It is our own version of fiction vs. fact.
Then a tragedy like this in Aurora unfolds in living color through eyewitness accounts and live breaking news reports and we realize life is fragile and we are all in danger. I, like many of you, have watched the news with shock and sadness, and, when my husband comes home, I will hold him close. For today.
And, for a few days, we will all be guarded and watchful, our eyes on our neighbors and ears to the walls, listening for rumblings of more trouble.
But, even before the last of the victims are buried, our lives will begin to return to normal, our watchfulness will recede, and the ache our hearts will subside. Soon this will all be a distant memory; that is until the next large-scale tragedy happens, when we will again say, "Oh, I remember..."
Perhaps we would be a better, safer nation if we would choose to never forget that untimely deaths should be counted one by one by one. And to recognize that, in the same way we are now pulling together as a nation to mourn the death of 12 people in Aurora, we should pause each day to mourn the lives that are lost in single, dark acts of violence.