Echoes of Columbine

  • Posted: April 30, 2019
  • Category: Blog
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The Front Range of Colorado found itself once again in the shadowed nether world of every parent’s worst nightmare. We woke one morning to hear that virtually every school along the entire Front Range would be closed that day. A mad gunman stalked our streets seeking to achieve either immortality or nirvana in the blood of innocents. Is there something in the air of the Mile High City that appeals to the unhinged, perhaps akin to the poppy fields surrounding Oz?

Given that the 20th Anniversary of the Columbine shootings was only days away, it could not be said that we weren’t expecting something like this. The approaching anniversary had been giving the media what can only be described as pre-orgasmic palpitations for some time. That irreverent H.L Mencken in my head imagines a cloud of flies around a fresh cow pie.

We awoke Wednesday morning past to breathless media reporting “Live” from various points in the city. A troubled teen-age girl from Florida had flown into Denver, bought a shotgun and was now a stealthy predator on our streets. The FBI had taken charge, naming her a “serious threat”. A buzzing FBI press briefing informed us that this teenager was obsessed with the Columbine shootings, possibly on the prowl to perpetrate some as yet nameless outrage.

Schools were cancelled. 500,000 children were suddenly without school for the day. Hundreds of thousands of parents relied on grandparents, “a sudden onset of the flu”, “working from home” or simply crossing their fingers, relying on the good behavior of their children. Based on the anecdotal evidence of my own eyes, the local urban landscape was strangely empty.

Depending on your point of view, luckily or unluckily the unhappy young lady had no visions of a Wagnerian Gotterdammerung. Instead she took an Uber into the mountains where she hiked up into a lonely mountain meadow. There in that austere alpine landscape she promptly committed a messy suicide in the snow. Thanks to good police work, her shattered body was found fairly quickly. If this strange teenager had simply hitched an anonymous ride on a truck heading north on I-25 the Front Range’s educational system would have floundered in an agony of indecision for weeks.

Perhaps you think my words a bit flippant, perhaps not sufficiently appreciative of the deadly threat she posed to children as well as those scarred by past memories. That may well be. My wife snorts in derision when I mention that I am known to be a sensitive guy. She knows from long experience that my warm interior empathy is well armored by a hard and cold shell seldom penetrated.

But I do remember Columbine. I remember it very well. Those memories are deeply engraved and despite the twenty years distance, still close to the surface. That morning I remember our receptionist screaming “The radio says there’s a bomb threat at Columbine” and running out the door to find her children. I remember driving back home to our house only a few blocks from the high school, watching helicopters circling above Columbine High School. I remember looking out the window of our house as the TV set beside the window mirrored the identical scene on CNN.

I remember standing in the eerie silence of the Leawood Elementary School’s auditorium, my stomach in knots waiting for some news of my daughter while watching crowds of worried parents milling around, some praying as I was, some in muted nervous chit-chat, some crying. I remember the profound sense of relief and thanks when she called.

On some level, I understand the authorities dilemma. I think I have at least a limited appreciation of the hard decisions they have to make. I am a parent. Parents have no sense of humor about their children’s safety. It is true that law enforcement is on high alert. It is true that our schools have been slowly morphing into urban and suburban castles over the past twenty years. Perhaps they do not yet have moats and raised drawbridges, but many have armed security officers and are proof against even forced entry short of armored vehicles. It is also true that the threat is a teen-aged girl, a stranger to the city, armed with a shotgun, a difficult to handle, slow firing weapon with a heavy recoil and cumbersome to re-load.

Still. The decision makers are crystal clear in their understanding that they will be second-guessed endlessly. If even a harmless encounter occurs anywhere near a school, a shameless and relentless media will pillory them. They will be stripped bare. No matter the protection normally offered by their gender, race or progressive politics, the school officials will be crucified. There will be interviews with tearful mothers, angry fathers and compliant children mouthing agonizing tales of recurrent nightmares.

Those calling the shots can hardly be blamed for making the safe choice. After all, what is the reward for taking a risk, even a vanishingly small risk? You’re kidding right? It doesn’t take an astute observer to see that we have a very hard time as a culture with the idea of risk. In the Age of Social Media, the mob is proud of its ignorance and eager for the blood of the latest bull in the ring.

As is often the case, my mind fumbles with reality by seeking metaphor. And so it was with the troubling backwash of Columbine and its ripples. Over the years, I have come to be convinced that the experiences and thoughts of our youth create rutted tracks in our mind that never vanish, simply deepening as we travel them endlessly, very like the paths of cows in the pasture.

I could not help but remember Ray Bradbury, an author from the dawn of science fiction. Ray Bradbury wrote stories exploring the ways of people in the grip of fear. This troubled young lady, Sol Pais by name, brought one of Bradbury’s stories to mind. I think its title, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, captures the situation along the Front Range that morning. Indeed, Colorado’s Front Range woke that morning to the news that “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. How did we react? In truth, we pushed the big red panic button. Was it a hysterical panic, or did we act prudently? You be the judge.

The presence of this young woman among us reminded us in a very real way that there is evil in the world, there are dark places in the human heart. This realization frightens us, as well it should. Try as we might we cannot escape these dark places and the experience of uncounted generations as well as the lessons of Scripture tell us we cannot eradicate them. Those of us blessed to live in the prosperous places of Western Civilization in the 21st Century can sometimes forget that.

Cossetted by our company’s Human Resources department and protected in our pleasant enclaves guarded by trustworthy police, we live in an ordered and protected world. In our need to escape the darkness nearly 3 million of our people sit in prisons. That is not to say that evil has been banished, only that it mostly assumes the guise of a smiling snake rather than the snarling werewolf. There is evil in our lives, but it is the struggle against the apple’s temptation rather than fear of the Cain’s club.

But even there, we are not always safe from the naked face of that wickedness lurking in the darkness. Whether in the burning towers or the news of a mad teenager on the loose, we are inescapably reminded of our vulnerable humanity and our existence in a world where the red tooth and claw of darkness roams. No matter our station in life or our protective walls, there are times when the phrase “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is simply a terse description of reality.

In the story, Ray Bradbury’s antidote to the wickedness that comes upon us is love. Ray Bradbury, echoing God, tells us that wickedness can’t exist in the presence of love. True enough. There seems to be a consensus opinion, at least in the world of Adorables, in agreement with this truth. But there is a wide disagreement among the various parties’ on how to achieve this love, this magical flux joining us all in harmony.

Ray Bradbury in his story, speaking for majority opinion in the Adorable world, holds that this love, which can vanquish the darkness, is something we can achieve in ourselves. God, disagreeing in a minority of one, declares that “No, human beings can’t do it themselves. We must accept His grace for our inability to eradicate that darkness within ourselves”. Our own answer, of course, is something that each one of us must decide as well as bearing the consequences for our decision.

Once more, I fall back into the ruts made in a long since vanished youth with the words of the Kingston Trio:

“I gotta walk that lonesome valley

I gotta walk it by myself.

Oh nobody else can walk it for me.

I got to walk it by myself.”

The Kingston Trio’s “Reverend Mr. Black” quoted above speaks of individual decisions. God as well speaks of individual decisions, but He also gives testimony, both direct and indirect, that nations make collective decisions as well. While we walk the lonesome valley by ourselves, in the meantime we live in this world together with billions of others also walking their own lonesome valley. And we must deal with the wickedness that resides in each of them as well as that within our own.

While we await the coming of the Millennium, prudence dictates protecting ourselves from something wicked that might come in the meantime. Our nation whether Pearl Harbor or 9/11 strikes back at oncoming wickedness in righteous anger. To do otherwise is unthinkable, is unconscionable when the lives of our own are at risk. At some level we understand that it is foreordained in our action that the innocent will be thrown into the fire along with the wicked. But in this life we must do what we must do.

Today we are engaged in a pursuit of the wicked across the globe. We use the bravery of our warriors and the marvels of our technology in this effort. As this mostly unseen battle against wickedness works its way through far off civilian populations, I do fear for our soul as a people. As we seek to punish the wicked hiding among the innocent, I fear that we will grow callused.

Our wealth and our technology allow us to become ever more distant from the point of the spear. As we come to rely more and more on an impersonal and remote retribution, we risk becoming ourselves, the wickedness that this way comes. Our people will become inured to “collateral damage”. I fear that already the spirit of Amaud Amaury may be dulling the hearts of those making the decisions, of carrying out the orders.

The France of the 13th Century had its own battle against the wicked known as the Albigensian Crusade. Because the Albigensian Crusade was what we now call a guerilla war, it was hard to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” in southern France. One of the French commanders, Amaud Amaury, famously dealt with the problem of telling the “bad guys” from the “good guys” by ordered his troops to “Kill them all and God will recognize his own”.

As a brief look at the Albigensian Crusade makes clear, wicked is sometimes a relative thing. I suspect that many in Afghanistan and the bloody Middle East would note their heads in mute agreement. Be that as it may, it is neither wise nor prudent for the spear to question its target. The police officer confronting the teenager or the officer targeting the Hellfire missile has a job to do and is expected to do it within the guidelines given him. To do otherwise invites chaos.

But as we along the Front Range take a deep breath and relax after our thankfully brief confrontation with the wickedness that suddenly comes upon us, we might take a moment to reflect. With the abrupt arrival of the troubled teenage girl from Florida, we rightly feared the threat to our children, and to a lesser extent ourselves. Our leaders took action. But whether prudent or overblown, we disrupted the lives of millions of parents, students and caregivers because of the remote (?) threat of danger to a few children.

The Columbine Memorial near Columbine High School is a testament and memorial to the twelve students and teacher killed twenty years ago. It is a place of solitude and contemplation, a place to think about our lives and the existence of evil in this world.

Just a short drive down the street is a clinic of Planned Parenthood. Indeed, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.



4 Responses to “Echoes of Columbine”

  1. Brad Smith says:

    Another well crafted blog. However, if it were true “that wickedness can’t exist in the presence of love” then Easter would not be a thing. God is love. His death on the cross was both the greatest act of love by Him and the greatest act of wickedness by men, at the same time, in the same place, existing simultaneously. To dig a little deeper still; in Job 2:10 Job asks his wife an interesting question; “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” If Job is correct in his belief in God’s ultimate control over everything, is he also correct that the existence of evil is ultimately from God? Perfect love enacting evil or in the very least allowing it. Perfect love casts out all fear but I don’t believe it casts out all evil or wickedness. Just some food for thought.

  2. Terry Todd says:

    One of the ways that evil came to me personally through this event was found in my reaction to the news of the girl’s death. My first reaction was, „Good, she’s dead. Now we can all get on with our lives.” Then I gasped at my own reaction and repented of it. My convenience is not more important than her life! What if she had been my daughter? Who was her mother? Her grandfather? How did I so casually join with wickedness in being glad that her life had ended in despair and self destruction? God save me, for this that has gripped me is more destructive and damnable than what she managed to accomplish.

  3. Judy Hoxworth says:

    After this week and Colorado facing yet another Columbine I truly felt compassion for you. I have a problem feeling sympathy for a state that has little or no respect for their neighbor but in this I do. In so many ways I see many reasons why but must be careful and remember, but for grace of God. Our children are hurting and so are we in a world that has turned their backs on GOD

  4. John Carveth says:

    While this is a beautifully written essay, it does not seem to arrive at a meaninful conclusion. Yes it’s a good description of our trajectory. But can we alter the coarse course? If this is the end times, no we can’t. Nor should we try. Our best advice might be to pray a lot, but carry a gun. Welcome aliens, but build a wall. Sleep deeply, but lock the doors.Trust, but verify.

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