The Aurora Tragedy: Moving Beyond Fear to Action

By Emma Specter, Communications Intern

I was at the midnight showing of the new Batman movie in Washington, D.C., the same night a gunman took the lives of 12 people in Aurora, Colo. and injured 58 more. My friends and I bought our tickets online at the last minute, thrilled that we’d managed to find a showing that wasn’t sold out. We drove to the theater in the middle of a thunderstorm, blasting old R&B and arguing about parking. We bought Sno-Caps and put our feet up on the seats in front of us and made fun of the previews. How many of the young women and men at the Aurora theater that night did the same?

I’m 19, and this isn’t the first national tragedy I’ve lived through, but it’s the first one that’s rooted itself deep inside me and followed me around. There’s no indoor space I can inhabit now without looking around constantly, breathing too fast and hugging my arms to my body and feeling painfully aware of how unprotected we all are.

Sometimes it feels like fear is the true legacy of my generation, but I’ve never felt it like this before.

The Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, just weeks after my family moved to Manhattan, and although I do have memories of that time, they’re the memories of a child. I remember baking cookies for firemen, being afraid of the gas masks in the safety ads plastered everywhere, asking my mother why everybody on the subway looked so sad.

The Virginia Tech shooting rampage happened when I was 13, when I didn’t really have the mental resources to process it yet. I remember feeling deeply sad, but it was the same kind of sadness you feel for faraway strangers who inhabit a world you know little about.

Aurora victim Alexander Boik was 18 years old. Jessica Ghawi was 24. Alex Sullivan was turning 27. How could anyone our age be prepared for such an average night — not a wild party night, not the kind of night our parents warned us about — to end in agony?

During the past few days, I’ve read more thoughtful, moving articles about the mass movie-theater shooting in Aurora than I can count (including one by NOW’s Communications Director, my supervisor).

I’ve watched the terrified firsthand accounts of the surviving moviegoers, the ones we call “lucky” because they managed to escape with their lives as a darkened theater exploded around them. I’ve read statements from the victims’ families and friends, each one containing its own heartbreaking little factoid: Six-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan was an avid swimmer, 24-year-old Alexander Teves was known for his Gollum impression. I’ve seen the chilling photos of James Holmes sitting quietly, fiery-haired and glassy-eyed, beside his defense attorney. All of this, and I still don’t know what to say or how to feel.

Working at the National Organization for Women has familiarized me with all forms of injustice, but it has also taught me that if I think carefully and take action, I can be part of the solution. It’s part of being a D.C. intern, or part of being a wide-eyed college student, or maybe just part of being young in 2012 — you’re taught there’s nothing you can’t fix if you work hard enough. There is no way to fix what happened in Colorado, and I don’t know how to process that. Does anyone?

There are steps we can take. We can work to reform gun control laws, we can make it harder for the average citizen to stockpile ammo and assault rifles, we can report and criminalize domestic violence so our children don’t grow up believing on some inchoate level that blood and tears are just a part of life. We can spotlight individual gun crimes, such as the shooting of four-year-old Bronx boy Lloyd Morgan last Sunday night, instead of focusing our attention only on mass tragedies. I firmly believe we can and should do all these things. But nothing we do will bring back the lives lost in Aurora or erase their loved ones’ unimaginable pain; call me naïve, but I can’t imagine I’ll ever be old enough to make my peace with that.

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