As a resident of Colorado for most of my life, I have been a witness to some of the greatest tragedies our state and country has seen. After the Columbine shootings, I sat powerlessly as a colleague of mine desperately tried to reach his daughter who was a sophomore there. After hours of sitting in panicked suspense, he received the call he’d been praying for informing him that she was OK.
This Saturday morning at 3:30, I was jolted out of sleep when my phone rang. It was a concerned friend from L.A. who watched in horror as the events of the Century 16 MoviePlex unfolded. This friend knew that my family lived near the area and was calling to be sure we were all accounted for, which we are. The next 24 hours, Colorado and the world were flooded with reports of terror: 12 dead and more than 70 wounded. The reports continued to flood in, and soon, the speculation started.
Reporters camped on the suspect’s family lawn, hoping that the family could provide clues as to where the suspect went wrong. Psychologists reminded the public that often the onset of schizophrenia is in one’s early 20’s. Religious leaders postulated that even though this was not God’s plan, He would turn it for good. Others blamed government conspiracy, and some simply attributed Holmes’s behavior to plain old evil.
This search for answers is a natural human response to tragedy; it is one of the ways we seek to find order in an absurd world. When something like this shooting occurs, it shatters our sense of meaning; suddenly, even movie theaters aren’t safe anymore. Nothing makes sense, and we desperately try to find ways to make sense of something that is senseless. Some people turn to religion, some to reason, and some to fate but nearly everyone turns to something. It’s human nature, really, to seek to find meaning but from an existential viewpoint, the problem lies in the fact that there is no inherent meaning. There is no order, sense, or general purpose to the world…it is a world of chaos, and the only meaning it has is that which we give it. When one is able to take a step back from the meaning they have attributed to events, they are able to see that they have created their own meaning. Different groups often lock horns over this when one is convinced the meaning they have created is correct while the other is equally as convinced that they are right. If either group were to entertain the possibility that NEITHER or BOTH are right, they have circled back and are again facing an absurd world.
Nietzsche believed that it isn’t suffering that humans have a problem with but rather it’s meaningless suffering. In the face of this most recent tragedy, many will seek answers but the important thing to remember is that the answers you seek are within. You may find comfort in religion, reason, science, or psychology. Each individual is responsible for seeking their own meaning to make sense of this suffering, and each person’s viewpoint is as valuable as the next.
I was fortunate to attend a prayer vigil in Aurora where groups of all walks of life linked arms in support of the victims, victims’ families, and the community. The crowd was patrolled by police officers while members of a motorcycle group assisted in instructing the hundreds of attendees. There were individuals from every walk of life standing together in solidarity. At one point, two Christian pastors holding a cross were standing next to a group of Muslim leaders, each group praying to their individual God. It was a beautiful image of the solidarity that can often come from this type of tragedy.
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian Neurologist and psychiatrist who lost almost his entire family and his life’s work in a concentration camp, said that “in some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering the moment it finds meaning.” The events of last Friday will never cease being horrific but that can move beyond senselessness when infused with meaning. It is my sincerest hope that each person impacted by the shooting will find meaning, hope, and courage in spite of the tragedy.
We are Aurora.
— Lisa Vallejos